Coffee or coca? Colombian farmers face a difficult choice
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Coffee or coca? Colombian farmers face a difficult choice

Colombia’s once thriving agricultural sector looks to be entering into a dry spell.

Despite achieving 4.8 percent growth during the last quarter of 2015, and having increased by some 3.3 percent this year, growing national demand and a hike in exports has seen the sector begin to struggle in earnest.

A hike in the dollar versus the Colombian peso and extreme weather fronts brought on by the El Niño climate phenomenon have seen production drop by around 3.2 percent, a merger 0.5 percent of the country’s GDP, daily El Tiempo reports.

Coffee is key

According to the Agricultural Society of Colombia (SAC), it is rice which is currently leading the sector. Coffee, a key export crop and bartering tool during the ongoing peace process, continues to keep the sector afloat.

National prices have also been hit hard, as a slow down in production and poor weather has also seen Colombian kitchen staples pork, chicken and egg prices soar in national supermarkets.

Year-round crops, such as coffee, are essential for the agricultural sector. In fact, crops such as coffee contribute around 54.1 percent to Colombia’s agricultural GDP, according to a 2015 Dane report.

Coffee remains key to the Colombian agricultural sector. As the country looks to improve export links with the U.S. and as the global coffee market faces increased competition from Indonesia and Kenya, amongst others, coffee remains central to the agricultural sector’s success.

For small scale subsistence famers, caught in the cross fire of making enough to support their family while fighting against large scale producers, other alternatives come into play. Rural communities in Colombia’s departments worst hit by the 50 plus years of armed conflict, such as Guaviare, Meta and Norte de Santander, have seen their land seized from them or face pressure from armed groups to turn to coca cultivation.

Despite President Juan Manuel Santos leading a crackdown on the illicit crop, Colombia is once again topping global tables for its hectares of coca spread across the country.

While ground based teams continue to attempt to tackle coca head on, eradication remains a difficult and timely process.

Time for change

Jherlin Servando Cuesta Mosquera, a Chocó based engineer and member of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization has first hand experience of the damage that conflict has wreaked on rural areas, from El Espectador:

A peace deal could be the start of creating a country without armed conflict, but peace depends on each one of us, we need to be ready to each place down a brick to build a castle and this will only be achieved by being fairer people each day, patient and showing solidarity for others. This also needs changes in health, education and by ensuring that there are concrete opportunities for rural communities.

Colombia’s government will certainly have its work cut out, as coca, an equally hardy crop, will need to be replaced by coffee to ensure that Colombia continues to make its mark in a new peace time agricultural sector.

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