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Coffee slump forces Central Americans to migrate

In the first eight months of the current U.S. fiscal year, which began in October, the number of migrants detained or refused entry at the U.S.-Mexico border exceeded 570,000 – more than the total for all of the previous year. The vast majority of those migrants were from Central America.

The region accounts for 10% of the world’s output of arabica, a high quality coffee bean used to prepare espresso and gourmet blends. The coffee business is worth around 5% percent of gross domestic product in Honduras.

Officials are still assessing the impact of the phenomenon, which is hurting an industry that employs hundreds of thousands in some of the poorest nations of the Americas.

In Honduras, the government is crafting a plan to provide financing and new machinery for coffee farmers, but the industry says that plan risks putting them into more debt.

Coffee has long been a pillar of economic and social development in poor areas between southern Mexico and Panama, known as the “Corredor Seco,” or Dry Corridor – a strip of land that has fallen prey to damaging droughts in recent years.

Almost half the coffee-producing areas in the corridor have been under cultivation for more than 25 years, making them “aged” in growers’ terms. That has prompted calls from the national coffee-producing associations to secure new plots.

In the meantime, fifty-five-year-old David Ramirez, a coffee farmer in Camotan in southeastern Guatemala, one of the country’s main coffee-producing areas, said coffee sales are not profitable for anyone working in the business.

At the start of 2019, Ramirez said he paid a coyote, or human smuggler, $2,600 to take his youngest child Delmi, 17, to the United States because she could not find work in Guatemala. Delmi left but she died in the United States after she became ill, Ramirez said.

The farmer, who is now growing corn to pay off his debts, said several neighbours had gone to the United States in search of a better future. But most, he said, had sent their children northward and stayed on to work the land, hoping coffee prices would recover.

In another case, Honduran coffee farmer Mario Lopez paid a coyote to take him to the United States toward the end of 2018 in a bid to escape the economic ruin engulfing him at home.

In mid-November, the coffee farmer and his 12-year-old daughter undertook a perilous 35-day journey up through Mexico after a collapse in international coffee prices destroyed the business that he had dedicated his life to, his wife Carmen Andino told.

Shortly before Christmas, Lopez and his daughter entered the United States. Since then, he has sent money to his wife and three children who stayed behind in La Colonia, a rural town in central Honduras dominated by cultivation of coffee, the country’s top agricultural export.

Andino said the plantations that once supported the family are now abandoned because they cannot be maintained.

 

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