Coffee Exports ~ Good News in El Salvador, not so in Colombia

“Green” coffee beans – bagged and ready to be sold to roasters.

The 2010/2011 harvest season has been a good one in El Salvador; not only have yields increased, they have nearly doubled when compared to the yields at the same time last year, and coffee prices have also gone up. The price per quintal (approximately 100 kilograms) this year is $213.28, whereas last year it was $148.11 – a jump of $65. Yields increased from 1.08 million quintals in the 2009/2010 harvest season to 2.07 this year. Germany buys the majority of Salvadoran coffee (at approximately 35%) followed in close second by the United States (with 32%) and then Japan at nearly 10%, Canada at 6%, and twenty-six other countries making up the remaining exports. The rise in prices and yields is certainly a boon for coffee exporters, but unfortunately those picking the coffee don’t see the extra value. Of course more beans to pick does mean more money, but they do not earn more per basket of picked beans when coffee prices are high. The average Salvadoran coffee picker will see about eight dollars per quintal picked. And I can promise you that picking 100 kilograms in one day is impossible – it takes about two days, which brings the average monthly salary of a coffee picker to around $150. As long as there’s work. So the more coffee to be picked, the better for these pickers. And the happier the coffee plantation owners are when the prices are high. But is it win-win?

Coffee processing/cleaning plant at Finca Santa Isabel, on the slopes of Volcan Chaparrastique (San Miguel)

Colombia is a different story this year. Due to the heavy rains that plagued the country in the later months of 2010, continued rains throughout April and unusually cold temperatures, the coffee harvest was 19% less than what it was last year at this same time. However, 2010 saw a big increase in production and exports, so the drop this year still puts them ahead of where they were in 2009. Additionally, exports only dropped by about 2%, which means producers were favoring exports to local sales – most likely due to the high prices of the global coffee market. If producers are going to be low on volume, they will make up for in with the higher prices. And indeed, Colombian coffee exporters have not seen a much lower income this year than last, thanks to the higher world coffee prices.

What I wonder is: how many of you know where your coffee comes from? And does it make a difference to you?

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