BOGOTA - According to legend, Colombia is blessed with coffee thanks to sinners.
The legend comes from Francisco Romero, the priest of Salazar de las Palmas in the Santander province, who had a strange penance for residents who confessed their sins: to sow coffee seeds. The priest wasn’t naive – it was yet another push for the cultivation of coffee, which later expanded throughout Colombia and became the pillar of the national economy.
Until the 1980s, Colombia boasted of being the second largest coffee producer in the world, and the country’s ‘brand’ seemed inseparable from the popularity of coffee. "That’s how Colombia managed to position itself as the "coffee country" of the region. Even now, that’s how Colombia is known abroad," explained Carlos Rojas Gaitan, the executive president of the Colombian Association of Coffee Exporters.
Rooted in the Colombian peasant culture, the extensive plantations in the Andean hills contributed to growth in the GDP, a positive trade balance, jobs and monetary stability. But at the end of the 1980s things started to change for the worse.
Between 1989 and 2011, the country lost seven percentage points of its market share in the world coffee market, while Brazilian coffee producers increased exports and new actors, like Vietnam and Indonesia entered the market and knocked Colombia off its coffee throne.
"Right now, we are fourth in the world in terms of production of coffee," says Andres Guerrero, a professor at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "There is a change in the market and in the coffee context. Colombia should pay attention to that."
Increased competition internationally is not the only reason that Colombian coffee producers have been suffering. Domestic headaches have also been multiplying. Price instability has affected the harvests of small farmers, and with it, their means of survival. Government assistance has proven insufficient, and a depression has spread throughout the community of coffee farmers.
At the beginning of October 2012, around 50,000 coffee farmers in Colombia joined protest marches to protest the coffee industry’s problems and the government’s indifference.
According to them, this is the worst time for coffee production in Colombia in the past 36 years. "We had a first crisis 10 years ago, and now we are starting to have another one that is really bad," says Juan Pablo Echeverry, the manager of a coffee plantation in the city of Manizales, to the south of Bogota.
The harvest in 2011 was the smallest in 30 years. Only 7.8 million 60-kilo sacks where harvested, mostly due to heavy rains in the main coffee-producing regions. Price volatility made the situation even worse. Coffee prices started going up in 2004 and reached a peak in 2011, when they reached the prices of the 1970s. Since then prices have been dropping.
Plagues and climate change
In light of this, the Colombian Federation of Coffee Producers has launched a price protection program, an insurance that aims to protect incomes and reduce risks. "Colombia has 560,000 coffee producers. We came up with this idea to protect these farmers and create a financial mechanism that allows them to protect themselves," explains Luis Fernando Samper, the head of communications and marketing for the Federation of Coffee Producers.
Will this be enough to weather the crisis? In addition to the price volatility and the macroeconomic circumstances, there are problems related to climate change, which have caused increased plagues and epidemics. "The red spider and insect larva represent majors problems for us. Now we have to harvest all year, and fumigate. That means increased costs," explains Juan Pablo Echeverry.
The Center for Coffee Research is working on a project to map the coffee genome and give the plant more defenses against its natural enemies. In addition, they are working on ways that coffee producers can prepare for the changes associated with climate change.
However, the coffee harvests between January and September 2012 in Colombia were 3% less than the same period in 2011. A report by the International Coffee Organization said that, although Colombian coffee production is improving, "getting back to the production levels of the beginning of the millennium will take time."
The coffee industry knows that, and is preparing for a couple of difficult years. Some say that the most important thing is to promote institutional reform that will strengthen the industry. "The future of coffee production depends on what happens now in the coffee guilds; the strategies that they design not only to survive the crisis, but also to maintain a strong union," says Alfonso Gomez, an economics professor at the EAFIT university in Colombia.
Colombia is not going to stop being a coffee country. But returning to the good times will depend on public policies and what the producers’ associations do to confront the situation. Because going back to tricks of faith, like Father Romero did in the middle of the 19th century, does not seem like a very good idea.
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Welcome to Wednesday, where Turkey lifts its veto on Finland and Sweden joining NATO, there’s stunning new testimony in the Jan. 6 hearings and Airbnb bans parties forever. Meanwhile, the latest edition of our “Work → In Progress” series zooms in on changes at play in the world of work, from the emergence of digital nomad visas to asynchronous work schedules.
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Why hasn't Joe Biden visited Ukraine?
U.S. President Joe Biden has been evasive when asked if he plans to follow European leaders by visiting Kyiv. However, such a move could have far-reaching consequences for Ukraine and the rest of the world, writes Cameron Manley for Worldcrunch.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been unyielding in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: heavy sanctions on the Russian government and financial markets and strong words about Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeling him a “ butcher" and “war criminal”. The U.S. has also sent upwards of $54 billion in aid to Ukraine.
This week, the war looms heavily over Biden’s trips to Germany and Spain for meetings with world leaders at the G7 and NATO summits.
Already on this side of the Atlantic, the staging would thus seem perfect for the U.S. president to reaffirm support for Ukraine by going to Kyiv, following in the footsteps of top European leaders, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN chief Antonio Guterres, who have paid recent visits to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
And yet, save a surprise detour this week, it appears that Biden will in fact not be making the much anticipated trip to Kyiv. What's holding him back?
By all accounts, Biden had plans to visit Ukraine, responding positively in April to President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation to come and see the destruction “with his own eyes.”
However, when asked last week if he still plans to visit Ukraine, Biden evasively said that it depends on “many things regarding whether this will cause more difficulties for the Ukrainians, whether it will distract from what is happening.” When asked to clarify whether this meant that he would not visit Kyiv during his trip to Europe, he replied: “During this trip, it’s unlikely.” He stressed, though, that he spoke with Zelensky three to four times per week.
Russian news has pounced on Biden’s notable absence from Kyiv. On Thursday, Russian daily Kommersant ran the headline: “Not the time to head to Kyiv” and notes that this is not the first instance where Mr. Biden has had to make excuses for not visiting Ukraine.
In March, the U.S. president visited Poland and was closer than ever to the Ukrainian border. The fact that he never walked the streets of Kyiv, unlike British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was explained by the U.S. president himself: He was "not allowed." The White House refused to clarify what or who was stopping him.
Other Russian media sites have also mocked Biden for his “fear” of visiting Kyiv, using tweets from U.S. citizens to substantiate calling the president a “puppet” or “coward.”
Over the course of several months, high-ranking officials from Washington have indeed visited Kyiv, most notably Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and even First Lady Jill Biden, who made an unannounced visit at the start of May.
Of course, when and if he were to visit, the appearance would likely be unannounced, for security reasons. Indeed, a visit from the U.S. president himself carries higher stakes than perhaps any other world leader. It's worth remembering that during Guterres' visit to Kyiv in late April, Russia launched a new round of missile attacks on the city that the United Nations chief said were an attempt to "humiliate" the UN.
Moreover, it may be no coincidence that the first air strikes on Kyiv in weeks have coincided with this current round of European summits, as Russia has continuously demonstrated its readiness to escalate. The U.S. sending its president to Ukrainian soil would no doubt raise the stakes further.
Back in March, Zelensky said that Biden, as the leader of the free world, is also the “leader of peace.” But of course these are war times, and the prospect of a visit to Kyiv begs the question of whether Biden wants to be seen as the leader of the war.
• Finland and Sweden on course to join NATO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted a veto on Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the alliance’s summit in Madrid after the three countries agreed on a series of security measures. States members’ parliaments will then have to approve their membership, a move prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
• Capitol riot hearings update: White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified as part of the January 6 insurrection hearing that former President Donald Trump knew that some of his supporters carried weapons and still urged them to march on the U.S. Capitol, and reportedly tried to join them but was not allowed to by his security team. She said he also threw his dinner plate against a White House wall when he got bad news about the election results.
• Two arrested in migrants Texas tragedy: Two Mexican men living in the U.S. illegally have been charged in connection with the death of 51 migrants in the sweltering back of a semi truck in San Antonio, Texas. The suspects are thought to own the truck in which the migrants were smuggled.
• Philippines shuts down Maria Ressa’s news site: The Philippines government has ordered the shuttering of the independent news website Rappler for “violating restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media.” Its owner Maria Ressa, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her journalistic work, pledged that she would keep the website running.
• Fear of religious violence in India: Police in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan have banned public gatherings and blocked Internet access in fear of religious violence after two Muslims posted a video in which they claimed they killed a Hindu tailor, whom they accused of insulting Prophet Mohammad.
• Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years in prison: British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in jail for her involvement in the sex trafficking of underage girls alongside Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell did not take responsibility but said she hoped her conviction would bring “closure” to the victims.
• Airbnb party’s over: Airbnb has permanently banned parties and events in homes rented through their platform. A temporary party ban was first implemented as a COVID safety measure two years ago. Non-complying guests will be banned from the website.
French daily Libération reports on the last day of the trial for the November 13 attacks in Paris. The photo featured on the front page was taken in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks that killed 130, back in 2015. Judges are expected to hand their verdict today. The daily front page reads: “Humanity has won,” highlighting the strength displayed by witnesses during the nine month trial.
A report by Colombia’s Truth Commission has announced that the long-lasting civil conflict in the country killed more than 450,000 people over nearly six decades. The commission is calling for significant changes to Colombia’s drug policies, which it says played a role in prolonging the war and contributed to the loss of life.
Work → In Progress: The ripples of Ukraine war on the world of work
The war (like the pandemic) is another reminder that the future of work is bound to ever more be a global thing, no matter how local your market or employer may be. This edition of Work → In Progress also zooms in on the emergence of digital nomad visas, asynchronous work schedules and other notable stories from the world of work.
🇷🇺🏫 Mastering the Russian language may give children a leg up on the job market, reports German daily Die Welt. Once prominent in Germany’s eastern federal states, Russian language studies for schoolchildren in Germany have been declining for decades — the number of German students studying Russian was down 83% in the 2020/2021 school year compared to 1992/1993 — and replaced by romance languages. With the war against Ukraine, teaching Russian is at a turning point.
🏖️ Digital nomads, people who work remotely while globetrotting in a “nomadic” fashion, may have a new location to stream from on the beaches of Bali. Indonesia recently announced plans to attract high-spending visitors by developing a “digital nomad” visa. Yet Bali already has its fair share of digital nomads, operating in what Fortune calls “a legal gray area at best,” with some using tourist visas or temporary work permits. The new visa would be valid for five years and wouldn’t tax income from outside the country — and would streamline what some nomads are already getting away with.
🗓️ As employers explore options to reduce the hours workers have to spend in the office in the wake of the pandemic, and the resulting rise of remote work, many European countries are testing out the four-day work week. The idea is that the shorter work week will reduce burnout without sacrificing productivity and pay. Some have already been testing the idea, including Iceland which has begun a four-year study on reduced workplace hours in 2015.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“I grabbed a towel and started wiping the ketchup off the wall.”
— In her testimony at the January 6 hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson revealed that former U.S. President Donald Trump became furious when then-Attorney General William Barr denied there was any evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. She recalled hearing noise in the White House’s dining room and found the president’s valet changing the tablecloth as a porcelain plate laid shattered on the floor: "The president was extremely angry at the attorney general's [...] interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall,” Hutchinson said. The episode was one of many disturbing anecdotes about Trump in the wake of his 2020 election defeat, leading up to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
U.S. tennis star Serena Williams was eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon by France’s Harmony Tan. The seven-time Wimbledon champion said she is unsure if she will play the prestigious English tournament again. — Photo: Frank Molter/dpa/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Joel Silvestri, McKenna Johnson, Lila Paulou and Lisa Berdet
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