Colombia’s Coffee Growers go on strike

Colombian coffee growers strike over lack of government support, high cost of production

Thousands of Colombian coffee growers blocked roads and prevented beans from getting to port on Monday on the first day of a strike to demand more government aid after being hit by years of poor weather, crop disease and a strong currency. 

According to a report written by The Masteroast Coffee Company in Peterborough, if the dispute is not resolved quickly, it could dash the country’s hopes of increasing output to 10 million 60kg bags this year, up from the 8 million in 2012.

This could be a disaster for Colombia, which relies upon coffee as one of its staple legal exports.

Colombia’s coffee farmers have seen their livelihoods shrink in recent years as the cost of fertilizers and other imports needed to produce coffee has chipped away at earnings. Farmers have already been hit hard by comparatively low earnings due in part to Colombia’s strong currency. The net effect raises the cost of exports making produce less competitive. A strong currency hurts coffee growers and other exporters that receive dollars for sales but pay costs in pesos.  “We need earnings for coffee growers; we are broke,” said Oscar Gutierrez, coordinator of a union that groups coffee growers in various Colombian provinces.  He said that while the strike goes on, farmers will not pick beans nor sell them.

A Colombian coffee farmer carries a sack of harvested beans

Colombia, a top producer worldwide after Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia, reported its lowest crop in three decades last year at 7.74 million sacksSince 2009, growers also have suffered from the impact of torrential rains that flooded soil and knocked beans from the trees.  That later introduced disease that wiped out crops.  A Arabica tree renovation program – aimed at improving output in years to come – also took thousands of hectares out of production. Young Arabica plants take upto three years to first flower and produce the coffee cherries. Constant soil maintenance and testing is critical to ensure a significant output “We are living in misery,” said Teodulo Guzman, director of a private organization of coffee growers in southern Huila province. “Right now, we don’t have money to pay for coffee pickers, not even to fertilize. The secondary harvest looks good but it is going to get damaged because we don’t have money to pick the beans.

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