Mon, Oct 23, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Peace gives Colombian
coffee an extra shot

By Marcy Nicholson  /  Reuters, SAN CARLOS, Colombia

Illustration: Yusha

Farmers who fled war in the Colombian Andes are returning to revive their abandoned land, cultivating coffee trees that are boosting global supplies of the highest-quality beans.

Colombia’s five-decade civil war, the longest in the Americas, displaced millions and disrupted farming for decades in areas that produce coffee for the most exacting consumer.

The revival of coffee farming in the former conflict zones could help boost Colombia’s coffee output by 40 percent, according to government estimates.

That would raise global supplies of mild arabica beans by about 13 percent.

The additional supply could reduce the cost of the raw material for the world’s top roasters, many of whom are seeking to secure increased supply from Colombia.

About 950 coffee-growing families have returned to the San Carlos area, representing about 60 percent of the 1,600 families who left during the war, according to data from the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation.

The supply from this region, about 330km northwest of the Colombian capital of Bogota, could expand further as farmers plant more of their land and more people return to the region to provide the needed labor.

The area now has about 800 hectares of coffee farms, double the low of 400 hectares during the war.

That is still only about half of the 1,500 hectares prior to the conflict, according to federation data.

Among those who returned is Libardo Garcia, who lost two brothers in the conflict — one was shot and the other killed by a landmine. He and his family moved back to their 12-hectare farm in 2015 after fleeing in 2001.

“All the coffee trees were dead when we came back,” said Garcia, who has since planted 8,000 trees on 2 hectares of steeply sloped land.

Arabica is the highest-quality coffee bean and Colombia is the world’s top producer of mild arabica. To make that variety, beans are separated from the cherry and dried to increase quality.

Arabica makes up about 60 percent of global coffee supplies, with lower-quality robusta beans accounting for the rest. While some coffee roasters add robusta to their highly secretive blends, premium brands are typically 100 percent mild arabica.

A peace deal between the government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) late last year paved the way for many to return to their homes and farms, including thousands of coffee growers.

About 220,000 people died and millions were displaced in decades of fighting among leftist guerillas, paramilitary groups, criminal organizations and government forces.

The conflict impacted large areas of the country, and the government struggled to exert control over highlands and remote jungle areas in the west and south of the country.

Some farmers who stayed through the violence have also switched to coffee from growing coca and other illegal crops that they cultivated during the conflict. Coca is used for cocaine production and the cash from growing it helped finance armed groups during the war.

The combination of farmers returning to their abandoned land and others switching to coffee could help boost the country’s total output to a record 20 million 60kg bags by 2020, the government estimates, up from 14.2 million bags last year.

In the Andean region of San Carlos, the revival in coffee production has advanced quickly since conflict in the region abated around 2014, when the peace deal was still being negotiated. The country’s conflict with rebels began in 1964 and peaked in the region around 2000.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top