Faced with the hardships of Colombia’s coffee business, many young farmers are now choosing to try their luck in cities rather than struggle in their father’s footsteps on the country’s coffee plantations.
Not only has Colombia’s coffee industry been hit by adverse weather conditions, pests, diseases, and pressure from guerrillas in the past years, but now a new issue is threatening the future of the country’s coffee-growers, as youths migrate to the cities instead of taking on the land, according to Reuters.
Colombia was once the world’s second greatest producer of coffee, accounting for 16% of the worlds’ produce in 1965 and trailing only to mega-producer Brazil. However difficult weather systems, disease, plagues of insects and a replanting program slammed Colombia into a 40-year production low in 2010, and today it only accounts for 6% of the world’s produce.
Young farmers see their fathers struggling against the falling prices and the disasters that have hit year after year, and city life becomes more and more attractive to them. Coffee production is expected to be roughly nine million bags this season, which is a one million bag recovery against last season, but prices are low due to decreased demand for Colombia’s high-quality Arabica beans and Brazil’s stockpiling.
The country’s problems were at their worst over the past four seasons because of the difficult La Niña weather system. While these conditions have now ceased to be a problem, the lack of earnings for the coffee farmers during that period limited the coffee-growers’ ability to invest in fertilizers to improve yields.
Of the 563,000 families which cultivate coffee, over 95% of them are smallholdings with less than 13 acres to plant. Coffee farmers have accused the government of apathy in sending resources to help them and to incentivize the youth to stay on the land. Although the government announced over $200 million will be given to support coffee-growers over this year, the farmers say not much benefit has been seen to date.
Policies have made a difference but have not eliminated everything. A new threat called the red spider has begun invading crops in the Caldas coffee zone. According to the coffee-growers this new ailment could increase the $220 million that has been lost by the coffee-growers of the country last year and that has left them without resources to respond to plagues of this insect.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers in Colombia has expressed alarm in relation to the problem of the youth migration, but farmers have also blamed the federation for supporting the old ways of its members, without encouraging modernization and innovation, in order to tempt the young people to stay on the land.
A harsh winter has killed off flowers on the coffee bushes according to reports, and this season the harvest will be delayed until February 2013. Farmers complain that production is minimal and not worth the cost, however industry leaders warn that weather and pests are not the only threats to Colombia’s once glorious coffee industry, as the youth leave the small farms with no one to run them.