The harvest has been delayed throughout the country. Many parts of Colombia are in harvest at the moment, the mitaca is happening in Antioquia while there is the main crop in Huila, Tolima and Nariño. Leading up to this season the internal coffee price in Colombia was holding highs of around 1.2 mil COP/carga, at the end of last year (2020) and increasing at the beginning of this year. In addition to this there have been political developments that are having a dramatic impact on the coffee sector.
There are currently mass protests across Colombia that were triggered by proposed tax and health reforms. The government has withdrawn these reforms however the protests continue and are escalating. The protestors say they are fed up with the poverty and inequality in their country, and have been further angered by the violent response from police to their protests.
There is a history of violent conflict in Colombia, going back to the 1940s and 1950s when the country endured “La Violencia”, a decade-long conflict between liberals and conservatives that was sparked by the assassination of liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. This conflict devolved into a civil war between the government and newly formed left wing guerilla groups. The impact of this violence on families within Colombia is still very tangible, especially in rural areas.
In 2016 the Colombian government brokered a peace deal with the largest guerilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in Spanish). The FARC agreed to submit their weapons and cease fighting, and the government agreed to support demobilised FARC soldiers and provide economic opportunities in the rural areas. The current government is of a different political party and critics say they have been lacklustre in their commitment to the peace deal. As a result, civil conflict continues in many rural areas and this leads to more frustration.
The impact on the coffee sector
Since the initial protests began things have escalated, and currently protestors are blocking roads, especially in the south where there are few major arterials between regions. Huila, Tolima, and Nariño are completely inaccessible and there are food shortages across the country.
Currently coffee can not be transported out of coffee growing regions and roads to the larger ports have been blocked. Shipping lines have cut services to Buenaventura completely, the port used to export 70% of Colombian coffee. The port of Cartagena was operating at a limited capacity but is back to normal, however with a nation-wide strike effort planned for Friday June 11, this situation may change.
In Antioquia the mitaca is usually harvested from March to April, however this year the region experienced very cold weather and excessive rain during the flowering, and cold temperatures when cherries were expected to ripen. The result is a reduction in volume due to damaged flowers, and a delayed harvest with many of the producers we work with starting as late as May. We expect the mitaca to be harvested over quite an extended period, so the mitaca harvest might merge into the main harvest.
Antioquia has not been impacted by roadblocks like the south of the country, so it is still possible to move around the region.
Harvest is also delayed in Nariño. Normally it would be well underway in May but we hear there is still a lot of coffee in the field and picking will continue throughout June. We buy a lot of naturals and special prep coffees from this region, processing methods which pose much greater risk to the producer. We have been in regular contact with our suppliers in Nariño to let them know we are committed to buying these coffees so producers can plan accordingly.
The delay in the harvest here is helpful, and we hope the conflict will be resolved and roads opened in time to transport these coffees to port for export.
We work with producers of organic coffees in Tolima and these producers report delays in the harvest here too. There are also shortages of fuel which means that coffee cannot be transported from the farms to the purchasing sites. Fortunately our partner in Tolima has been able to move coffee to their warehouse and are planning to ship from the port of Santa Marta.
The harvest in some parts of Huila has been underway for a few weeks which is a slight delay for their main crop. There is already coffee available for export in Huila but due to the roadblocks, the region has only exported 11% of the available volumes.
Even before the political conflict erupted in Colombia the internal prices for coffee were high, possibly because Brazil is expected to produce a smaller volume of coffee this year. The current political situation has increased prices further, as coffee can not be transported and therefore available volumes are way down. Currently the internal FNC minimum is at COP 1 470 000.00 per carga (125 kg parchment), with a further premium required for a quality differentiation. The C market has also been rising, and the FX has been very volatile. There is a growing backlog of coffee to be exported which will create a bottleneck at the ports.
The current situation in Colombia will have a far reaching impact on coffee growers and rural communities. We hope for a peaceful resolution which allows producers and suppliers to resume business, and we are in regular contact with people on the ground to do all that we can to buy the coffees we need and love from our partners.