Beginning Sunday, thousands of Colombian coffee farmers took to the streets of Bogota to demand that the government support their industry, which has suffered to consecutive years of price drops. They were met with criticism from their president, Juan Manuel Santos, who stated the strikes are “unfair, inconvenient and unnecessary,” while insisting that the subsidies provided by the Colombian government for the coffee industry have outpaced the subsidies provided by other countries to their coffee producers. He further stated that the aid provided on a monthly basis totals 1.65 million dollars.
Farmers are stating the monthly subsidy is not enough – “[Farmers] are paid $282 for a sack of coffee but the cost of producing it is $366. These are small farmers. They are poor. The culture of coffee growing is important to Colombia but we cannot continue like this,” says a strike organizer, Victor Correa. He added that the current situation is ”an economic crisis, a social crisis, an institutional crisis and a crisis of production.”
The Financial Times has painted a picture of the Arabica problem that has long been having a negative effect on farms, farmers, and their families:
Arabica prices have plunged in the past 18 months and are fluctuating around $1.40 per pound. That compares with the unusually high 2011 average of about $2.55 a pound, and $1.76 a pound last year.
“All of us coffee growers would like to live in an ideal world with sustainable prices,” said Luis Genaro Muñoz, general manager of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, which represents some 500,000 coffee farming families.
The strike shows that Colombian producers, who often set trends for the wider industry in Latin America, are struggling even if prices remain much higher than in previous downturns. Arabica coffee prices have fallen 55 per cent from a 30-year peak in 2011 of more than $3 a pound, but remain well above the low of $0.50 set in 2002. Higher production costs are a further problem.
Currently the government has decided to meet the strikes, which have about 30,000 participating farmers, with force – sending 1,500 police to the scene of the protests. The UPI.Com states:
National Police in Colombia said 15,000 policemen are reporting to duty to maintain order as an estimated 30,000 coffee growers staged demonstrations.
Colombia Reports said Tuesday that street demonstrations demanding government support for the struggling coffee industry occurred in Antioquia, Huila, Risaralda, Quindio and Tolima, regions of Colombia.
Confrontations with protesters resulted in 21 injuries, none of which were considered life-threatening, and reports indicate that most of the protests have been peaceful, Colombia Reports said.