The Widening Coffee Crisis

The Widening Coffee Crisis

Climate Change and Economic Struggles at Origin Amidst a Global Pandemic: Firsthand Account

Words and photographs by coffee farmer Alexa Marin of Nicaragua.

The last couple years amplified many of challenges facing the specialty coffee industry, particularly for the people at origin who make coffee possible. Climate change, the pandemic, migration and inflation contribute to the ever-widening crisis for coffee producers. Smallholder growers like Alexa Marin have worked in coffee their entire lives. Below is her firsthand account of the challenges she is facing at her farm in Nicaragua. Her words below are translated and edited for clarity. See below for Alexa's words in Spanish. 

______________

By Alexa Marin

Working in coffee is a hard job. We continue to work because we have it in our blood, it is a part of who we are. It is important to put a face to each cup of coffee, to realize how many families need to work hard to produce a cup.

This year in particular, the basic costs of living and eating are very high. Here in Nicaragua, everything has gone up in price. The costs to produce quality coffee is very high. We often do not have the sufficient amount to buy the bare necessities. 

"Personally, I just hope to survive the year. We are fighting against illnesses in our coffee fields. This year we planted 2,000 coffee plants thanks to Pachamama, but these new coffee plants will take three to four years to mature and produce coffee." - Alexa Marin

In addition, the effects of climate change have caused a lot of problems with the quality of coffee and that affects us directly as small-coffee producers. When it was expected to rain, the rain did not come. That happened at the very moment when the coffee cherry was developing, and that caused the coffee to mature before its time, forcing us to cut it when we normally would not.

The amount of plagues and illnesses impacting coffee has also increased due to climate change. Aside from coffee rust which is very difficult to get rid of, we are dealing with pests like the coffee berry borer, and the brown eye spot of coffee. They affect the cherry and that affects the final coffee yields. 

Yet another thing that is affecting us greatly is COVID-19. Here, we are still waiting for a vaccine unlike other countries where the vaccine is readily available and people don’t want it. Here, it is the opposite. We have all lost a family member and this is affecting us emotionally. And now that the harvest is coming, people need to move from one place to the other and that will cause an increase in infections. We don't know what the future holds. We only know that we are here now, but anything can happen tomorrow.

"It encourages me to know that there are people working hard so that our coffee is sold at a fair price, so that people know us, and not just for our coffee. That there is a face to each cup of coffee, that it is our image and our story." - Alexa Marin

The pandemic is adding a lot of financial stress. The cost of living is already high, and yet we must add the costs to buy masks and gloves when we barely have enough. Also as a result of the pandemic, our organizations are seeing buyers unwilling to make contracts. Then the financiers don’t want to finance because there are no contracts. Cargo ships now come sparingly, and that is also augmenting the costs for the organization. 

Personally, I just hope to survive the year. We are fighting against illnesses in our coffee fields. This year we planted 2,000 coffee plants thanks to Pachamama, but these new coffee plants will take three to four years to mature and produce coffee. Meanwhile our other coffee plants are struggling with pests and illnesses that are hard to control. As stated before, the weather this year is crazy. 

Migration has impacted the zone greatly. Entire families, young adults, have migrated to the US, to Honduras, to Costa Rica, to Spain. My coffee field is small, but there are other coffee producers that need an extra hand, and this year will be difficult because the majority of those people who producers relied on for help have left.

With an electoral year and the economic sanctions placed on Nicaragua, the people who will truly be affected will be the poor, those of us who live here. We are out in the field working, but when we get to the city we don’t have enough to buy all the food we need. We know these problems are international, but I’m not sure if small-scale coffee producers will survive the economic and the pandemic’s impact. When we go out each day, we wonder if we’ll return.

However, my family motivates me. I still have the spirit to keep working. Everyone at Pachamama motivates me, as well as our cooperative PRODECOOP and the rest of our team here. It encourages me to know that there are people working hard so that our coffee is sold at a fair price, so that people know us, and not just for our coffee. That there is a face to each cup of coffee, that it is our image and our story.

I’m driven by the fact that I grew up in the field, that that is my way of living. While God grants me life, I will keep fighting, and working in my field, in this land, because this is our mother earth. We live here, we are from here, and we eat from here. This is where our family lives and where our roots are. This is what we were taught to do for a living.

I rejoice to wake up each day, because I know not everyone is granted a tomorrow. A lot of families are losing their parents, their children without being able to say goodbye. Even though it saddens me often, and as we say over here, sometimes you just want to throw in the towel, when you see that you tried working towards something but yet another thing fails. Earlier this year I was happy to have renovated my field, but now a wall from my adobe house is fractured from the effects of the hurricanes ETA and Iota and the wall might fall any minute. Regardless, as long as we have life, we continue moving forward little by little. God has given me the gift of waking up each day. I am grateful to life, for the ability to continue to work, to keep fighting because I know we are not alone.

________

Alexa Marin is a small-scale coffee producer in El Volcán, Dipilto, Nicaragua and a farmer-owner of Pachamama Coffee Cooperative. She is the Gender Commission Coordinator at PRODECOOP Nicaragua where she oversees and advocates for women coffee producers, particularly in regards to women’s health and gender equality. She also coordinates educational workshops to train coffee producers to adapt to climate change. Alexa has been working in coffee for 45 years and owns her family's farm. Follow Alexa on Instagram

Translated by Rosa Angelica Sarabia

________

Version Original en Español 

Este año los altos costos de la alimentación, es la canasta básica, han afectado. Aquí todo ha subido. Los costos para producir un café de calidad son muy elevados. Ya uno no ajusta ni para comprar lo mínimo porque la canasta básica ha subido una barbaridad. 

La afectación del cambio climático viene a causar problemas en la calidad del café y eso nos afecta directamente a nosotros los productores y productoras. En el tiempo que debía llover no llovió, entonces era cuando el grano estaba en su formación. La maduración del café se adelantó y en este tiempo no es época para que se corte. 

Con el cambio climático han aumentado las plagas y enfermedades en el café. Además de la roya que es difícil de sacarla de las plantaciones, hay broca ( Coffee Berry Borer), mancha de hierro, chasparria (Cercospora coffeicola), muchas enfermedades que afectan el grano y eso va afectar los rendimientos.

Otra cosa que nos afecta muchísimo, es el COVID-19. Nosotros tenemos que esperar la vacuna. No es como en otros países que hay vacuna y la gente no quiere. Aquí es al contrario. Todos de alguna u otra manera hemos perdido familiares. Eso nos afecta emocionalmente. Ahora que viene la cosecha, la gente se mueve de un lugar a otro y eso va aumentar más los contagios. Uno no sabe qué futuro tiene, sabe que hoy está, pero no sabe qué puede pasar mañana.

La pandemia ha creado muchos problemas económicos. Hay tantos costos, y aparte sumarle a comprar mascarillas, alcohol, guantes, cuando no te da ni los precios. Si vemos las organizaciones, los compradores están desconfiados con los contratos del café. Los financiadores no quieren financiar porque no hay contrato. Los barcos aquí vienen muy poco, y eso también se vuelve en altos costos para la organización.

En lo personal, yo considero que este año es para sobrevivir. Estamos luchando contra las plagas y enfermedades del café. Sembramos una parte de café y la otra está afectada. Son cosas que no podemos hacer nada. Este año sembramos 2,000 plantas de café gracias al apoyo de Pachamama. Pero igual ese café tarda tres a cuatro años en producir. Y el otro café que teníamos esperanza que produjera este año, ahorita tiene una plaga que es difícil de controlar. El clima está loco como decíamos. 

Otra cosa que ha afectado mucho es la migración. Se han ido familias enteras, jóvenes, han emigrado a Estados Unidos, a Honduras, a Costa Rica, a España, familias completas. En el caso personal, mi parcela es chiquitita, pero hay productores que necesitan de mano de obra y que se les va a ser difícil porque esa gente se ha ido. 

Este es un año electoral en Nicaragua. Con las sanciones que se le están aplicando a Nicaragua, realmente quienes van a ser los afectados son los pobres, los que vivimos aquí. Porque nosotros estamos en la finca trabajando, llegamos a la ciudad y no ajustamos para comprar toda la comida. Sabemos que los problemas son mundiales, pero nosotros que producimos poquito café, no se si vamos a sobrevivir el impacto económico o el impacto de COVID. Como le decía, uno sale y no sabe si regresa.

A  pesar de todo, me motiva mi familia, el ánimo que tengo todavía para seguir trabajando, me motivan ustedes en Pachamama, la organización, PRODECOOP, los demás compañeros. Me motiva saber que hay gente que está trabajando para que nuestro café se venda a un precio justo, para que nos den a conocer a nosotros, no solo por el café. Que ustedes están poniendo una cara a cada taza, que se le ponga nuestro rostro a nuestro café.

Me motiva saber que nací en el campo, que crecí en el campo y que esa es mi manera de vivir. Mientras Dios me tenga con vida, seguiré luchando y seguiré trabajando en esa finca, en esa tierra, porque es nuestra madre tierra, aquí vivimos, de aquí comemos, aquí está nuestra familia y nuestras raíces. Es lo que nos enseñaron hacer.

Me motiva despertarme cada día, porque sé que muchos no tienen un mañana. Muchas familias están perdiendo a sus padres, a sus hijos y sin poder darles un adiós. Aunque a veces da tristeza, como decimos nosotros, “dan ganas de tirar la toalla,” cuando miras que se hace una cosa y luego se te daña otra. Yo estaba alegre porque había renovado la finca pero ahora se me afectó la casa. Pero bueno, mientras sigamos con vida, seguimos luchando, y ahí vamos poco a poco. Dios me da el regalo de amanecer con vida cada día, de agradecer a la vida y seguir trabajando, seguir luchando porque se que no estamos solos.

------- 

Alexa Marin es una pequeña productora de café en El Volcán, Dipilto, Nicaragua y es una de las productoras dueñas de Pachamama Coffee. Ella es la coordinadora de la comisión de género en la cooperativa PRODECOOP en Nicaragua donde vela por la situación de las mujeres, gestionando con el medio de salud. También coordina talleres educacionales para los productores de café sobre cómo adaptarse al cambio climático. Alexa ha trabajado en el café por 45 años.


2 comments


  • Parviz Jamali

    Very hard work. The least we can do is support thru our purchase and your good work. if there is a fund raising I will be happy to contribute


  • Julia

    Thank you for featuring coffee farmers and getting their voices heard! I would love to read more about Alexa in the future!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published