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Connecting Bolivian coffee growers to the world

In the old days, and that was only five years ago, Francisco Mamami Gonzáles wasted a lot of time going to meet potential buyers and suppliers. It could take three, four, or even five hours out of a day. This is far from ideal when you have to leave behind at the farm thousands of young saplings that require constant care.

Gonzáles with coffee saplings

Not anymore. “Three to five minutes and the business is done,” he says.  “With communications, telephony.”

Gonzáles is one of many coffee growers based in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the province of Ichilo in the Northwest of the country.  It’s an area that is renowned for its coffee plantations, many of them small-scale family operations.  

Until recently, when the area was not connected to phone or internet services, growers could only sell their beans to buyers whom they could meet face to face, negotiating over a table. But now, “in my community, there are high antennas,” says Eduardo Choque Muñoz, another local grower.  “We can communicate everywhere.”

New wireless communications infrastructure ended the region’s isolation

Some of the buyers of the local crops are as far as the United States, something unimaginable before the area was networked. And some of the orders are so large that several producers have to team up to meet the buyer’s requirements. “Through video calls, they ask us to see the product, and then we can send photos and videos,” Gonzáles says. Obviously still fully unaccustomed to the change, he wonders that the “images immediately reach the U.S.”

The new connectivity that Santa Cruz de la Sierra residents now enjoy is a nationwide phenomenon, says Diego Costas, manager of Solutions at Huawei Bolivia. He says that throughout the country, the company is installing base stations for wireless communications as well as deploying an optical fiber backbone that will put Bolivia on par with the most advanced nations.

Many of the coffee growers run small-scale operations

“The main benefit,” Costas says, “is universal access to telecommunications for Bolivians who live in very remote areas, which is expected to reduce the digital divide in the country.”

Huawei has developed a wide range of products, technologies, and knowhow to provide connectivity for the tens of millions of people around the world who are still unconnected. This includes low-cost antennas; solar power, batteries, and energy-management systems; and a vast range of microwave links that can reach isolated communities.

Coffee grower Francisco Viques Rodriguez on his farm

The rural coverage solutions can be basic and highly affordable, or more sophisticated, depending on local needs. Huawei’s highly economical RuralStar solution represents a complete rethink of base station design. RuralStar is made up of robust but simple telecommunications components. The kit requires so little energy to operate that a few solar panels are enough. More complex “Butterfly Sites” are set up on taller antenna poles. They typically can provide network coverage over several frequency bands and can serve a wider territory because of their height.

Watch the story of Bolivian coffee growers below.