Coffee farmers back in the fields as prices soar

Farmers celebrate coffee revival but lament poor roads, lack of water

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor special assignment

Sunday, January 18, 2015

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Residents of Ythanside, a small farming community in Portland, now have something to celebrate despite their many challenges, such as lack of water, poor roads and high unemployment.

This is because many farmers who had abandoned their lands when coffee prices dipped significantly a few years ago are now rushing to replant the crop, as the prices have started soaring.

For years the residents' main source of income was derived from farming coffee at nearby Shirley Castle, which is in close proximity to the Blue Mountain, an area known to produce some of the best coffee in the world.

However, when the price moved from $3,500 to $1,500 per box many farmers gave up cultivation, resulting in a greater demand for the product and an increase in the price.

"Now coffee is coming back, the factory buying it from us for all $7,000 per box, so everybody is planting it again," farmer Raymond Shirley told the Jamaica Observer North East.

"Now, none ah it can't stay a bush again because of how much it in demand," explained another farmer, Eric Hinds.

The coffee farmers say it is quite unusual for the price to double in one year as up to last year they were still being paid $3,000 per box.

They are, however, remaining optimistic that as Jamaican coffee remains in high demand in other countries the prices will also remain favourable for them.

Already scores of farmers they say are planting several acres of coffee but the crops are not expected to mature before the next three years.

The residents who spoke with Observer North East said the increase in the price being paid for coffee is the best thing that could have happened for the community because of the lack of employment opportunities.

"Thousands of people were in coffee farming, but a lot of them throw it up when the price drop and now the price gone back up people rushing to try put back some in the ground and that is good for the community because nutten else not here fi we do," said another farmer, Vivian Gray.

The farmers said it was difficult to survive on what they were receiving for the coffee before now because of the expense associated with buying pesticide for the crop and paying people to reap it.

"It's very hard to pick the coffee berries from the tree," added another farmer and coffee selector Clinton Miller. He explained that this is when the women are employed to assist in the process and are paid as much as $1,000 per box.

The coffee is in so much demand, according to the farmers, that the factories are now even buying coffee that they used to reject in the past.

"A couple years a back when coffee was in full swing the selectors select it and float (reject) the bad coffee, but now the companies are even buying the float portion because of the high demand for coffee," explained female coffee selector Greeda Morgan.

The factory purchases coffee in increments of quarter box, half box, three-quarter box and one box.

The farmers said they sometimes parch the coffee themselves and package it for sale in small quantities, but that was mainly before they were receiving a good price for it.

However, while the residents are celebrating the return of coffee, they are lamenting the poor road conditions, lack of water and high unemployment in this rural community.

According to the residents, they grapple daily with the fact that while they live in proximity to three major rivers they cannot get a drop of water in their pipes.

"We are surrounded by Spanish River, Rio Grande, and Swift River and yet several communities around here can't get little water in them home," said Morgan.

The residents said if it doesn't rain they have to sacrifice buying food and sending their children to school in order to pay for the life-saving commodity from water truck.

"Last year in the bad drought we had to buy the water from the truck or we had to be all over getting dirty water from anywhere we could get it," Morgan explained.

The residents' other major grouse is the lack of development in the community, especially for young people who have to leave if they are to earn any form of livelihood.

"The community is not developing, and people leave and nobody return to build, so it's just as you see it here," Morgan said.

One thing they are, however, eternally grateful for is that despite all the challenges the community is not affected by crime.

According to the farmers, even thieves find it very hard work to pick the coffee and as such this is one of the few crops not adversely affected by praedial larceny. However, as for other crimes, the residents said not only is the community a close knitted one which makes it difficult for criminals to infiltrate, but there is only one way in and out of the area.






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