Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday promised to revive the country’s coffee industry after farmers have claimed that they are falling victim to climate problems and upside down price conditions.
“We are working hand in hand to bring the coffee growing [industry] and thus the country, forward,” said Santos.
The president detailed the methods the government is using and will use to help the struggling industry get back on its feet while speaking to approximately 2,500 farmers in the Caldas department in central Colombia. The government reportedly will continue giving farmers a $33 subsidy for every 250 kilogram sack until July 31 when conditions will be reevaluated and a decision as to whether or not the subsidy should be increased or decreased or cut altogether will be made.
“Depending on the price situation, if prices fall more for some reason, we can see if we [should take another] look at the figure of [$33]. So I think that it is very important to have the peace of mind that there is a floor,” said Santos.
“We will do our best to make [sure] the basics, which are the production and price, stay in a condition which guarantees coffee growers a decent income. We know they are struggling. So our duty is to do everything in our power to ensure that these difficulties are the lowest possible,” the head of state continued.
Despite Santos’ calming words, some farmers have claimed that the $33 subsidy is but a pittance.
Members of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) begged the government to increase subsidies and address production issues after the base price per sack of beans began to severely sink below the costs of production.
“We are paid $282 for a sack of coffee but the cost of producing it is $366,” Victor Correa, a strike coordinator in the central Antioquia department, told Colombia Reports. “We are small farmers. We are poor. The culture of coffee growing is important to Colombia but we cannot continue like this… We are facing an economic crisis, a social crisis, an institutional crisis and a crisis of production.”
Growers have requested that the base price be raised to $391 per sack, which would aptly cover the estimated production costs for 2013.
Santos reminded the coffee growers in attendance that his government has provided some $447 million in direct aid to coffee farmers over his first four years in office and then pleaded with them not to “be seduced by the siren song of opportunists.” His plea referred to a potential union strike in which coffee farmers have planned to shut down roads throughout the country starting February 25.
The president also announced that a new commission will be created “to see what further action we can take or what reforms we can present to Congress…so that we can ensure that Colombian coffee will remain what it has traditionally been: the most important product for the Colombian countryside and Colombia’s flagship to the world.”
The committe will be comprised of a former member of the country’s central bank, a former member of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), and two members chosen by the farmers themselves as there have been reports that the federation leaders are out of touch with their base.