Harvest Arrives, Along with a Pandemic



April 28, 2020

 3 Minute Read

Alieth Polo
Regional PECA and Sustainability Director

It is hardly news that the current pandemic situation is affecting the specialty coffee industry, from farmers to baristas. We have witnessed how social distancing measures have paused most coffee retail businesses, affecting coffee roasters, cafes and baristas. But how is the pandemic, and the preventive measures taken by Latin American governments to halt the spread of COVID-19, affecting specialty coffee growers directly? 

The harvest in Mexico and Central America ended just prior to the Coronavirus reaching those countries. Hence, most farmers in Mesoamerica avoided many of the issues that South American farmers are now experiencing. In Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, the South American origins where we operate, the harvest is just getting under way. To better understand the primary concerns, worries, and challenges that coffee growers in these three countries are facing in the middle of the pandemic, last week our PECA team telephonically surveyed 379 coffee growers in Colombia, 48 in continental Ecuador, and 100 in Peru* that have plans to deliver coffee to Caravela this harvest.  

Below are the results of the survey, where you can see coffee growers’ main issues and compare the different perceptions in the three countries. 

The results of the survey show somewhat different issues affecting in each country. It’s interesting to observe that the pandemic, more than showing the impact of COVID-19 in coffee growing communities, is highlighting the structural issues that each country faces. For instance, lack of labor seems to be a bigger issue in Colombia and Peru than in Ecuador, as farms in the first two countries are generally bigger and more productive, thus more reliant on outside labor to be able to pick all their coffee. This issue is also reflected in the answers to the second question, as growers in Colombia and Peru anticipate higher percentage of losses precisely due to the lack of labor. 

Meanwhile Ecuadorian coffee growers seem significantly more worried than their neighbors about roads being blocked to prevent the spread of the virus into smaller communities. This response highlights the fact that the coffee industry in Ecuador lacks the type of solid coffeebuying infrastructure present in Colombia and Peru, where there is ample competition for parchment, and purchasing stations located in almost every coffee communityas well as different types of actors, both private companies and cooperatives.  

The survey also shines a light on the different cost structures, as our cost of production model has shown, where growers in Ecuador and Peru have higher costs of production than those in Colombia. This is due in large part to the pronounced devaluation of the Colombian Peso over the past few years, versus the dollarized economy in Ecuador and a strong Peruvian Sol. This is demonstrated by a significantly higher proportion of growers in Ecuador and Peru being worried about lack of money. With higher costs, and lower yields and market prices, growers in Ecuador and Peru find it much harder to generate a profit producing coffee. This answer may also underscore the fact that the growers with whom we work in Colombia have stronger and longer relationships with coffee roasters, as we have been working in Colombia the longest, by far. 

Despite the challenges faced by coffee growers, it iamazing to see how communities and families in Peru and Colombia are coming together to overcome the scarcity of labor that they are facing. We can see a huge increase in family members helping with the pickings, and communities creating mingas, where they unite for a common good and help coffee farms, to prevent community members from losing money or coffee.  

Having this information helps us understand and analyze how we can help coffee growers in Latin America address their situation so they can continue producing quality coffee and earn enough money to make a living. We must not forget these coffee growers during this difficult time, buying as much coffee as possible from them at prices well above their costs of production 

*Survey Information:

The survey was conducted via phone by our PECA team in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru from April 18 until April 24. This is the detail of the growers interviewed in each country: 

-Colombia: 379 growers with an average coffee planted area of 3.5 ha, from the departments of Cauca, Huila and Tolima (19 municipalities)

-Ecuador: 48 growers with an average coffee planted area of 2.56 ha, from the departments of Imbabura, Loja, Pichincha and Zamora (7 cantons)

-Peru: 100 coffee growers with an average coffee planted area of 3.2 ha, from the departments of Cajamarca and Cusco (11 districts). 

 

 

No es noticia decir que la situación actual de la pandemia está afectado a toda la industria de los cafés especiales, desde los productores hasta los baristas. Hemos visto como el distanciamiento social ha puesto en pausa a la mayoría de las tiendas de café en el mundo, afectando directamente a los tostadores y baristas. Pero ¿Cómo la pandemia y las medidas preventivas tomadas por los gobiernos latinoamericanos para evitar la propagación del COVID-19 está afectando a los productores de café directamente? 

La cosecha en México y Centroamérica culminó justo antes de que el Coronavirus llegara a estos países. Por lo tanto, la mayoría de los productores en Mesoamérica han podido evitar muchos de los problemas que están actualmente viviendo los productores en Sudamérica. La cosecha apenas empieza en Colombia, Ecuador y Perú, los orígenes en Sudamérica donde operamos. Para entender las preocupaciones, inquietudes y retos principales que están enfrentando los productores en estos tres países en medio de la pandemia, la semana pasada, nuestro equipo PECA realizó encuestas telefónicas a 379 productores en Colombia, 48 en Ecuador continental y 100 en Perú que tienen planes de entregarle café a Caravela durante la cosecha.  

Abajo encontrarán los resultados de esta encuesta, donde podrán ver los principales problemas de los caficultores y compararlos con las diferentes percepciones en los tres países.  

Los resultados de las encuestan muestran que hay diferentes problemas que afectan a cada país. Es interesante observar que la pandemia, más que mostrar el impacto que ha tenido el COVID-19 en las comunidades, ha resaltado los problemas estructurales que enfrenta cada país. Por ejemplo, la falta de mano de obra parece ser un problema más grande en Colombia y Perú que en Ecuador, ya que las fincas en los dos primeros países son generalmente más grandes y productivas, entonces dependen en mayor medida de mano de obra externa para cosechar todo su café. Este problema también se ve reflejado en las respuestas a la segunda pregunta, donde los productores en Colombia y Perú esperan mayores porcentajes de pérdidas de cosecha debido a la falta de mano de obra.  

Por el otro lado, los productores de café ecuatorianos parecen estar mucho más preocupados por el cierre de vías para prevenir la propagación del virus en sus pequeñas y vulnerables comunidades. Estas respuestas resaltan el hecho que la industria del café en Ecuador no tiene la misma estructura de compra sólida que vemos en Colombia y Perú, donde hay bastante competencia en la compra de pergamino y puntos de compra en casi todas las comunidades, como también diferentes compañías tanto privadas como cooperativas.  

Los resultados de la encuesta también resaltan las diferentes estructuras de costos, como nuestro modelo de costos de producción ha mostrado, donde los productores en Ecuador y Perú tienen costos más altos de producción que en Colombia. Esto se debe en gran parte a la pronunciada devaluación del peso colombiano en los últimos años comparado con la economía dolarizada en Ecuador y el fuerte Sol Peruano. Esto es resaltado por la alta proporción de productores peruanos y ecuatorianos preocupados por la falta de dinero. Con costos más altos, menor rendimiento y bajos precios, los productores en Ecuador y Perú ven mucho más difícil ganar plata produciendo café. Esta respuesta también resalta el hecho que los productores con los que trabajamos en Colombia tienen relaciones más fuertes y duraderas con tostadores de café ya que hemos estado trabajando en Colombia por mucho más tiempo.  

A pesar de los retos que enfrentan los productores de café, es increíble ver como las comunidades y familias en Perú y Colombia se están uniendo para superar juntos la escasez de mano de obra que enfrentan. También podemos ver un gran incremento en la cantidad de familiares ayudando a cosechar café y las comunidades haciendo mingas, donde se unen por un bien común y ayudan a las fincas de café para evitar que pierdan dinero o café.  

Tener esta información nos ayuda a entender y analizar cómo podemos ayudar a los productores de café en América Latina a enfrentar esta situación para que puedan continuar produciendo café de alta calidad y ganar suficiente dinero para vivir. No debemos olvidar a estos productores de café durante estas épocas difíciles, comprándoles la mayor cantidad de café, ojalá a precios muy por encima de sus costos de producción.  

 

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