Colombian Coffee during the Covid-19 Crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many businesses including the Colombian coffee harvest! The problem is getting enough workers into the fields to pick the coffee as the beans ripen. Every year in Colombia about 150,000 workers enter the coffee fields (and mountain slopes) to harvest coffee. This work is “social distancing” at its core because workers scatter throughout the fields and do not work side by side. The problem is one of getting from field to field as Colombia has restricted travel across the country with its nationwide quarantine.

Covid-19 Situation in Colombia

Colombia had the advantage of not getting a lot of travel from Europe or, especially, China as the pandemic began although there were vacationers who picked up the disease in Italy and needed treatment upon their return. Having watched how the disease unfolded in China and then in Italy and Spain, Colombia shut down early and hard with the military patrolling trouble spots to ensure compliance.

Hardest Hit Areas

The hardest hit area is the capital city of Bogota with 8,000,000 people and 2,408 of the 5,549 known cases in the country. The Cali and Medellin areas are next with 881 and 463 cases respectively at the end of April, 2020. (Colombia Ministry of Health Update, April 29, 2020)

Compared to the USA which a 0.3% case rate (one million reported cases per 328 million people, Colombia has a 0.015% case rate (5,549 cases per 36 million people).

Colombia Coffee Harvest, Processing, and Exports

The problem with the coffee harvest in Colombia is that the quarantine has shut down travel across the country. Every year about 150,000 are needed to pick coffee. Many of these workers move from area to area as needed. This year, growers are having to rely on just locals which may be difficult in scarcely populated mountainous areas where coffee is grown.

Colombian coffee roasters have not been spared the lockdown need to contain the virus and some are also concerned about lower global demand so they are not as willing to take on higher inventories.
Then the problem goes to the two main ports of Cartagena and Buen Aventura which are also large shut down due to the virus.

Things Are Getting Better in Colombia

The good news is that the “curve” has flattened in Colombia due to their early efforts at containment and the numbers, especially in areas like Manizales (one million people) in the heart of the Eje Cafetero, have not increased at all for a week. Thus, people are getting back to work slowly but surely and are we are likely to see fewer restrictions on travel so that workers will be able to get to the fields.

The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is actively involved in protecting the health and lives of all coffee workers as noted on their website.

The FNC has adopted the necessary measures to preserve everybody’s health and well-being at all levels, including its headquarters in Bogotá, departmental and municipal coffee grower committees, Almacafé, Cenicafé, the freeze-dried coffee factory Buencafé Liofilizado de Colombia, Procafecol (Juan Valdez stores), the Coffee Park, the Manuel Mejía Foundation, and other branches.

Supported by our own technology platforms, we seek to ensure that the service to coffee growers, customers, partners, allies and suppliers is not interrupted. Our work team will remain available, through their email addresses, cell phones and virtual meetings, to provide the best possible service in these circumstances.

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