Coffee production in Guatemala is facing a new crisis. No, it’s not rust, climate change or low coffee prices. But all of them, who together are causing more workers and some landowners to leave coffee farms and migrate north to the United States.
“You have two options in this part of Guatemala: to grow coffee or to migrate,” said Cipriano Juventino Niz Chilel, president of the Entre Rios coffee cooperative in San Pablo.
According to a recent article in Time, Guatemala went through three decades of migration: civil war in the 1980s; “economic crisis, extreme poverty and natural disasters” in the 1990s; and domestic violence and gang violence in the 2000s that left hundreds of thousands of people (out of a population of 16.5 million) with no choice but to move north.
And now the problems with the coffee industry are driving even more people to leave. The rust outbreak in 2011 decimated 20% of the coffee crop, having a particularly devastating effect on high-quality arabic varieties. The rust outbreak has only been exacerbated by climate change, with warmer temperatures spreading the disease to higher altitudes and also increasing the frequency of droughts, floods and cold shocks, which can slow down, or sometimes completely destroy, production.
At the same time, countries like Brazil, Vietnam and Honduras had particularly good incomes, leading to a drop in the price that Guatemalan coffees could get. Considering that producers were able to get from $ 170 to $ 180 per 100 pounds of coffee, prices today are around $ 110, below the investment cost needed to produce the coffee.
With no money for coffee field production, many Guatemalans are forced to migrate. And according to Time, while many would go to Guatemala City, low wages and gang violence made the trip to the United States much more attractive.
To stay afloat, many coffee farms are following the advice of the Guatemalan National Coffee Association (Anacafé) and diversifying their plantations to include bananas, bananas and macadamia nuts. This may help farms survive the current price drop, but little affects employment, as new crops do not require close to the same number of people needed to harvest coffee.
It is easy to forget, especially for those of us who do not coexist with everyday circumstances, that these issues do not exist in a vacuum. Climate change, turmoil, violence, immigration, unsustainable coffee prices: all are connected.