Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Spilling the beans: the threat to coffee and livelihoods

Coffee is the world's favourite beverage and the second-most traded commodity after oil. In 2009/10 coffee accounted for exports worth an estimated US$15.4 billion, when some 93.4 million bags were shipped, with total coffee sector employment estimated at about 26 million people in 52 producing countries. [1]
Coffee beans in Siares, where Alpha 8 will be building a pre-school

You are probably having a coffee whilst you read this, or have had a couple of cups to get you through the day? Now consider that those beans are currently under threat in Central America from a fungus called ‘roya’ affecting many of Raleigh Costa Rica and Nicaragua's partners and the communities where we are working.

In the Nicaraguan villages of Siares and Arenilla, where on Expedition 13A we will be working with local communities to build a preschool and a housing programme, many coffee farmers have been affected by ‘la roya’. It has already caused losses of more than $100 million in Nicaragua and warnings have put Costa Rica at threat of losing up to 30% of their crop yield.
UCA San Ramon is worried that ultimately debt will cripple the coffee growers in the region

‘Roya’ or rust fungus (Hemileia vastratrix) affects the leaves of a coffee bush until it completely dries the plant. This fungus is spread by contact from one leaf to another. It began to spread due to a lack of preventive measures and the effects of climate change, including high temperatures and drought, according to experts, government officials and industry sources.

Nicaragua is looking at $200 million in investments to renew its coffee plantations according to preliminary industry figures. While 'roya' is plaguing the whole Central American region the worst hit have been Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, with the latter two standing to lose the most as coffee is their main export. It represents $519 million, or 18 percent of exports for Nicaragua. The fungus has hit 30 percent of Nicaragua's 128,000 hectares of coffee, prompting the government and the industry to seek funds to help 35,000 growers. What makes matters worse is that many of the farmers are small-scale farmers who depend on coffee for their livelihoods.  When their coffee crop fails it has much more serious consequences.
Angie and Sacha, PMs in Arenilla working on a building programme during 13A, discussing the issues facing the region

When we spoke to our project partners, UCA San Ramon (a fair-trade coffee cooperative working in Matagalpa), they told us that the farmers are really worried as coffee prices are low, which combined with low harvests means that many farmers may end up in debt when they can’t pay off their loans. The outlook for next year isn’t any better as replacing the affected coffee trees will take three years, so instead many farmers are looking to diversify their farms by planting other crops.

So next time you are in the shop buying some coffee, remember that by buying fair-trade, you are supporting the most-vulnerable farmers and through the fair-trade premium supporting the social development of their communities. 

References: 1) International Coffee Organization (ICO) (2012) Trade Statistics. Accessed 2012 Aug 17.

p.s our Venturers have arrived - a very excited group are setting up their new homes as we speak - we will be bringing you an update asap with all their news and goings on!


  1. Hello Emma 13A,
    Love seeing you on the roll call, looking warm! Wet and windy here, wish we were with you, love and miss you. Betsy says her name is Grace, did you know that?! Stay present, proud of you.
    Mamen xxxx.

  2. For Abigail Hayward
    Hey Absi! How are youuu? Hope you're getting on well - been thinking about you most of the time since you've left! Hope you're enjoying Fieldbase and all the tasks and crazy 'get to know you' games. Keep a look out for the cows with big spaniel ears and have lots of fun. You might be receiving something fun in the post soon...Lots of love and thoughts Olivia xxxxx

  3. Anouk Nolte Expedition 13A Alpha 2

    Hey Noukie,

    Looking good on the presentation picture. Have fun with your last day on field Basis and success with the final preparations for your track starting tommorow. We follow the blog with interest.

    Love Fam Nolte

  4. To Robin van Gelderen 13A
    Hoi Robje, denken elke dag aan je!Hopen dat je het naar je zin hebt!Laat snel iets van je horen!
    Dikke kussen opa en oma



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