Upside Down World
Questions Brew in Colombia, As Coffee Farmers Face Record Shortfalls
Jul 14--It was one of the worst harvests that Carlos Trujillo remembered. An organic coffee farmer in Colombia’s lush, green Andean region known as Cauca, Trujillo usually managed to produce at least 2,500 kilos of coffee on his small farm. At a glance, all would seem well so far this year: the yellow husks of dried beans lay spread beneath see-through plastic tents, and a few stray ripe berries still glimmered in between the branches of squat coffee bushes. In one tiny dirt lot, Trujillo fed leftover coffee pulp and shells to an army of fat squiggling earthworms, which then produced a brown liquid later used for fertilizer.
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This year, however, even some of the earthworms would have to go hungry. The 23,000 trees on Trujillo’s farm had produced less than 1,000 kilos of beans this past harvesting season, a record low.
While local buyers are paying record prices for the unusually scarce supply of coffee, Trujillo knows that farmers and laborers will benefit little from the bonanza. And the shortfall is causing him to question whether Colombia’s manual laborers – who hand-pick the crop berry by berry – are in need of a technological upgrade.
“Coffee producers are always the ones who invest the most,” he said. “But then benefit the least. More farmers are asking whether there are other ways to make the harvesting more efficient.”
International coffee prices are reaching record highs in 2009, and it is unlikely that local farmers like Trujillo will reap any of the profits. And with Colombian coffee inventories at their lowest level in history, producers there are increasingly wondering whether the age-old, traditional technique of hand-picking the berries one by one must be replaced with newer technology – or else disappear completely.
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