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The situation is unsustainable for coffee farmers in the Coffee Sector of the Farmers' Association of Puerto Rico . With losses amounting to $ 100 million as a result of the passage of Hurricane Maria on the island, to resurge from the crisis, coffee workers clamor for access to the most basic ingredient of their recipe: the seed.
"The interest of the private company and the coffee growers is aligned in the efforts to raise coffee production. We need the Department of Agriculture to go hand in hand with these parties, focusing their resources for planting, growing and harvesting coffee in Puerto Rico , "said Germán Negrón, general manager of Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters .
"The coffee industry is the backbone of the mountain economy," said Iris Jannette Rodriguez, president of the coffee sector of the Farmers' Association of Puerto Rico.
The group of coffee farmers joined yesterday to make a public call with one voice. To that end, they held a round table, "Coffee after the hurricane", where they presented the needs of the coffee industry before the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on their farms.
At the meeting, which took place at the Convention Center, the industry said that after the hurricanes it has not been able to begin its recovery process, because they do not have the necessary programs and resources.
They reiterated that if an aggressive program of rescue and promotion of planting is not started, the recovery could take up to 10 years. More than six months after the passage of atmospheric phenomena in September of last year, the response of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has not been effective.
"The coffee industry is the backbone of the mountain economy. The income that it generates stays in Puerto Rico; he does not leave here. Every dollar that a coffee farmer pays to his workers is money that is reinvested in the local economy of the towns where coffee is grown, "said Iris Jannette Rodríguez, president of the coffee sector of the Farmers' Association of Puerto Rico. On the island, the coffee industry is developed in 22 municipalities.
With a market that is around 240 thousand quintals per year of coffee consumption in Puerto Rico (according to data from the DA), the margin of opportunity for coffee growers to expand production and sale is great. It is about one trillion coffee rates per year. But the industry is much more complex than the calculation with the naked eye.
The last three coffee harvests at island level during the three years before María had reached 65 thousand, 45 thousand and 40 thousand hundredweight respectively. The harvest that was planned precisely for the months of September and October 2017 would have surpassed the previous ones, but María destroyed it, explained Wilfredo Ruiz, president of the Association of Beneficiaries .
Projections indicate increase in coffee import
The demand that fails to satisfy local coffee production, is supplied by the DA with imported products. From what was left of last year's harvest, it is estimated that there are about 15 thousand quintals, to which another 10 thousand will be added in the harvest of this year. This means that local coffee growers will only be able to satisfy 10% of consumption in Puerto Rico, while 90% would be coffee harvested abroad. It is a projection that keeps alive hope of at least rescuing 10%, although there is a risk that the harvest will be zero. Due to the current state of the plantations, if the DA does not take immediate action the projections could be repeated during the next years.
All that imported production would reach the island through the Agricultural Business Development Administration (ADEA) of the DA, which brings the product and sells it to the roasters that complete the process until it reaches the consumer. According to Ruiz, who is also a nurseryman, the global coffee market at this time is around $ 140 per quintal semi-battered. Assuming that the DA acquired the quintal at that price, it must have sold it to the roaster at approximately $ 322 per quintal, with a profit margin of $ 182.
"We want part of the money to be invested in us by the coffee growers, in raising the plantations again," said the coffee grower. "We are talking about 200 thousand quintals that may be imported this coming year, part of which is invested in the industry. "
"The Department of Agriculture, unfortunately, instead of being a facilitator, has become a merchant, what is the mission of the Department of Agriculture, to help us raise the industry or do business?" Ruiz questioned.
"We know from the crisis that Puerto Rico is going through, what we are asking is that from the money that the industry (of coffee) gives, part of it is invested in the industry," he added.
What represents an opportunity to increase up to 10 times its current production to supply the local market.
"If we work to increase coffee production in Puerto Rico to replace the 225,000 quintals that ADEA will import in 2018 to cover the current deficit in the demand for coffee to be made in Puerto Rico, we would achieve that our coffee growers receive directly into their pockets at the of farm $ 75,000,000 annually. Money that currently the Puerto Rican consumer already pays and that mostly comes as income for the Department of Agriculture through the coffee that the agency imports, "added Rodriguez.
They ask Agriculture for changes in protocols and regulations
In an almost unanimous consensus, coffee farmers understand that the most pressing problem is the lack of coffee seed, the quality of coffee and how the DA assigns that seed to coffee farmers. So that a nurseryman can supply the seed to the coffee grower, said matter must be certified exclusively by the Agricultural Experimental Station of the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, as established by the DA.
The Experimental Station, for example, is the one who goes to another country and receives recommendations from a specific coffee plantation that could be resistant to pests. Then it brings the seed, germinates it and observes it for five years, before it can be distributed to nurserymen and coffee growers, explained Ruiz.
"The Department of Agriculture for the past 30, 40 years has been responsible for the stagnation of agriculture," said agronomist Héctor Iván Cordero, president of the Farmers' Association.
"We can not wait five years because what we are going to live on, we are willing to take the risk," he said, while affirming that it is essential to "break with that protocol." That is, nurserymen want to be able to import they seed themselves and germinate it, which would allow them to produce six to eight coffee seeds a year -versus the two million that are sown today- and increase production and harvest.
But obtaining permits through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import seeds is a step that coffee farmers assured they can achieve. The biggest problem is that said seeds do not enjoy technical support or incentives from Agriculture at the state level. According to the current policy of the agency, in addition, those seeds could not be insured and, consequently, neither the harvests.
"They do not give the opportunity for the farmer to develop new cultivation initiatives, new varieties.The Department of Agriculture for the past 30, 40 years has been responsible for the stagnation of agriculture," said the agronomist Héctor Iván Cordero, president of the Farmers Association.
They also pointed out the delay in the payment of agricultural insurance by the Agricultural Insurance Corporation. The claims to this insurance surpass $ 50 million, indicated the coffee growers. The DA promised to pay the total money no later than February, but to date the disbursement to farmers has not exceeded 50%, according to the coffee growers at the round table.
"You can imagine how farmers are, the need for that money and how slow Agriculture is," said Ruiz.
They also denounced the lack of fertilizer, the elimination of the crop protection program, the shortage of lime, the lack of soil evaluation, lack of financial aid and the few DA initiatives to mitigate the damage caused by the hurricanes.
For his part Germán Negrón, general manager of Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters (PRCR), committed to produce over 3,000,000 coffee trees in the next two years, in an attempt to supply the seed needs of coffee growers. The PRCR currently has a temporary permit to import limited quantities of seeds. He also announced that he will make an investment of $ 300,000 for the construction of two additional coffee nurseries, one in Manatí and another in Jayuya, doubling the seed production capacity in the next year.
"Let's not forget that we, the coffee growers, are the ones who initiate the chain of this industry. Those who wake up every day, those who do not have holidays or vacations, those who can not get sick, those who with our effort, dedication, passion, sweat and tears, because the tears came down with each storm of the hurricane, we get up and we continue to produce the best coffee in the world, Puerto Rican coffee, "said Iris Jannette Rodríguez, president of the coffee sector of the Puerto Rico Farmers' Association.
Issues indicated by the coffee growers at the round table:
Retos y amenazas: