Coffee farmers bitter

Coffee farmers bitter

...demand outstanding payments from Wallenford

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

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Angry farmers yesterday morning protested outside Wallenford Coffee Company on Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston, demanding what they said was final payment on coffee sold to the firm for the 2017/2018 period.

According to Jamaica Coffee Growers Association President Donald Salmon, the farmers are determined to get their money. “We not leaving here till we get it,” he said.

He explained that the arrangement is for the company to pay $6,000 per box of coffee in two tranches — $4,000 in the first instance, and $2,000 to complete the transaction.

“They paid $4,000 for the first payment last year, that is the 2017/2018 crop; and the farmers are now demanding the extra $2,000,” Salmon said.

The farmers, he pointed out, need to be paid as they face back-to-school expenses. “What can they do when they don't have any money to send their children to school?” he asked.

One farmer told the Jamaica Observer that he is owed in excess of $3 million and noted that the company now wants to slash the box price to $3,000 for the new crop season, which began on August 1.

“You have to remember that the farmers with large acreages pay a picker $1,000 per box. So when the company now wants to pay us $3,000 per box, there is not much left,” he said.

Another farmer, Hopeton Bryan, agreed. “Three thousand dollars can't pick coffee off the tree. Them a decide fi pay less than domestic wage guideline because the Government have $7,000,” he said in reference to the national minimum wage.

First vice-president of the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association DaCosta Biggs supported his colleagues, saying that the new price of $3,000 per box is inadequate as one pound of coffee is being sold in some supermarkets for as much as $5,663.

Another farmer, who opted not to be named, complained that Wallenford is importing coffee and mixing it with 30 per cent Blue Mountain coffee for sale on the local market.

But Wallenford CEO Mark McIntosh, who addressed the protesting farmers, told them that the Jamaican coffee was too expensive to produce.

“The coffee that's imported to Jamaica cost US$2.00 to import. The coffee that's produced in Jamaica cost US$15.00. It's two different coffee. The coffee that is imported can't be replaced by local coffee; we need to just accept [that]. The local coffee is just too expensive,” he said.

Later, Salmon said the farmers wanted better marketing and promotional strategies for local coffee, and increased prices for the 2018/2019 crop. They are also demanding a stoppage to the imports.

“We've had a lot of importation of coffee and it's affecting our farmers whereby our farmers [are] unable sell our coffee. We are importing more than what we produce and in the end we are employing farmers [from] other countries instead of our people. Eighty-five per cent of the coffee produced is produced by farmers out here,” he said, pointing to his protesting colleagues.

The farmers said they were planning to go to the coffee traders' office to mount a similar protest.

— Jodie-Ann Patrick

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