Coffee troubles

Coffee troubles

Farmers lament near 70% fall in price

Observer staff reporter

Monday, March 05, 2018

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COFFEE farmers in Portland are reeling from the effects of the fall in price for the mild-flavoured commodity which many say is their livelihood.

The farmers, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer North & East during a visit to several communities in the parish, last Wednesday, said that a box of coffee which, up to last year, was going for $12,000 is now going for as low as $4,000.

The group said as a result their lives have made a turn for the worse. Many of their children had to stop from school for days, and utilities and other responsibilities have been made to suffer.

“Right now we waan fi get some more price pon di coffee. It drop from $12,000 gone to $6,000 so this mean seh di farmers get a big loss because we can't buy fertilisers and stuff like that. We don't even know why it drop; dem just drop it on we the farmers. We get a real beating. Right now the coffee a go get late pon wi this year 'cause we can't get the fertiliser fi boost it cause we naah mek nuh money.

“It really a affect me because when mi fi clean up the farm and buy fertiliser and stuff like that mi can't do it. Certain things you know you used to buy and bring home or put in the house but now mi haffi cut down. Kids fi go a school, but things slow, and I have two children,” 35-year-old Ockief Coombs said. He mentioned that he has been in the coffee business since his days in high school and it has never been this bad.

“Right now mi a tell you the truth enuh; mi nuh know wah a go happen. If the farm run down and wi can't buy the fertiliser and stuff wi haffi go stop. It's a big loss; this we having in the Blue Mountain right now. It's a big one,” the gentleman said.

Selvin Walker told Observer North & East that the current price is unreasonable. He added that what was equally aggravating was the fact that no one has come forward to explain to them the reason for the price dip.

“Coffee cheap, daughter. It well cheap. Jamaica coffee weh dem a get a 100 per cent Blue Mountain and dem can't tell we why the price drop. On world market the price nuh drop, suh mi waah know a waah gwaan. Nobody nuh come keep nuh meeting with wi; we just left inna dark. This a affect wi bad, because it mek we all haffi a throw up some part a wi farm. Mi used to have five acre and mi used to employ 29 people and mi let dem go. Right now mi naah employ anybody. Mi just haffi deh ya now a easy and control two acre,” Walker said.

For Sebert McLary, small coffee farmers might soon be out of business. According to him, the current expenses to grow coffee far outweigh the returns.

“Nothing naah gwaan fi coffee at this moment because in 2006 we a get up to $12,000 a box fi we coffee and now we a get $4,000; fertiliser a sell fi $6,000. It can't work. Farmers a go through this and we can't manage it because a pure work and we naah mek no money. The coffee very hard fi tek care of enuh. We don't have any proper roads that's the first thing. We haffi mek roads wiself through bush and cross all river.

“Mi life mash up big time. Weh mi put in and a look fi take out mi nuh get it. Mi have mi likkle house working on and when mi a get $12,000 a box mi do nuff work pon it. Right now mi can't do nuh work because we nah mek nuh money fi do nuh work pon mi building.

McLary explained that he, too, is unsure of the reason for the drastic fall in market prices.

“Everybody come out a di ministry and just tell wi some things weh wi nuh understand. Dem a tell wi seh some guys go foreign and buy coffee and come back and mix it wid di Blue Mountain and mash up di market. Dem breed a things wi hear. Coffee Board seh dem is here to protect the industry and the farmer is the industry, so if dem naah protect wi dem naah protect the industry,” McLarty stressed.

Like others, Sanya McLean pointed out that the price for a box of coffee is far less than farmers' expenses. She said that she, too, has had to cut staff to stem her losses.

“They're saying that we must get $4,000 to $5,000 and they promised us $6,000. A bag of fertiliser not going for less than $5,000, to pay someone is $2,000, to give them lunch, buy coffee spray, both weedkiller and insecticide, they are very expensive. If we are coming from $12,000 to $4,000 it's really bad and farmers cannot live by that because that is what we do in the area. We are expecting our MP (Member of Parliament) to do something, but all we can hear is that farmers must put in more. How can you put in more when the cost is more than the price?” McLean stated.

She said that the coffee growing process is a tedious one which includes acquiring land, hiring men to clear it, hiring more men to dig holes for $10,000 per 100 or $2,000 per day, and that this has to be done two to three years before farmers can reap. She told Observer North & East that farmers spend up to $300,000 per year to get the process going as well as to continue.

A group of farmers who converged under a bus stop in the Blue Mountain Valley blamed Government for the fall in coffee price.

“Every time labour party (Jamaica Labour Party) come in coffee price drop. Life bad right now because whole heap a people out of work and a dis cause it. Mi a family man, and mi haffi finance miself and mi children fi go school so we have to be thinking about doing other things. When you a get $4,000 a box yuh can't save nothing out of that. A big loss fi we, big, big loss and that's why mi affi blame the JLP Government, because every time dem come in a power a dem things here happen.

“A di promise weh dem promise mek wi put dem in. If yuh deh here so now and you a get $12,000 a box and dem tell you seh dem can mek yuh get $15,000 up to $18,000 yuh naah go listen? Now, it left from $12,000 to $7,000 to $4,000. When we a blame dem now dem a seh dem nuh have nothing fi do wid coffee. Dem give wi a six fi nine but it pays to learn, trust mi.

“A two years of JLP and a famine round ya. A renta yam wi haffi a survive off now. We need dem fi come talk to wi,” Carnel Robinson, who spoke on behalf of the group, said.

But when contacted by Observer North & East, senior director for the Coffee Division at the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica, Irvin Willis, said that the board does not regulate prices.

Willis explained that there were two years of drought, 2014 and 2015, and, that forced prices to soar because the product was scarce. He said now that the coffee is in abundance, the prices have fallen and added that, that is the reason for the sharp reduction in the price of coffee.

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