Coffee farmers__woes


Output in Colombia, once the second producer after Brazil, hit a 35-year low in 2011 of 7.8m 60kg bags, down fr...


Output in Colombia, once the second producer after Brazil, hit a 35-year low in 2011 of 7.8m 60kg bags, down from an average of 13m in the 1990s. Although it will rise to 8.5m bags this year, according to the National Coffee Growers Federation, the federation_s own target of 14m bags in 2014 looks challenging.

The more than 500,000 small-scale coffee farmers are restive. Last month thousands marched though Manizales, the capital of the coffee-belt, demanding more government help and a shake-up of the federation. Although the collapse in the harvest was partly due to unusually heavy rains over the past three years, the farmers face other problems. As well as fungal rust, a plant disease, and insect infestation, these include price volatility and the strength of the Colombian peso, which renders production unprofitable.

Some relief is at hand. Younger, disease-resistant trees are starting to bear fruit, the weather is drier this year, and the central bank is intervening to drive down the peso. But some Colombians believe the coffee federation is also part of the problem. It is still a big buyer of the crop, at a guaranteed price. If Colombia is to regain its share of the world coffee trade, the federation should stick to branding and technical help, freeing producers to respond to price incentives in a market overseen by a new regulator, argues ANIF, a Bogot__ think-tank.

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By The Economist

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