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Economy

Colombia Faces Slim Pickings When It Comes To Coffee Pickers

Scared off by security concerns and enticed by urban employment, Colombia’s rural coffee pickers simply aren’t around for this year’s harvest. Local governments are having to get creative in their efforts to bridge the labor gap.

A coffee harvester in Colombia
A coffee harvester in Colombia


*NEWSBITES

The coffee we drink with breakfast or after lunch doesn't come from a jar or a can, just as the milk we consume doesn't originally come from a bottle or a box. Sure, we all know that coffee – in its original seed form – grows on bushes. But what most people don't know is that unlike milk, which can be collected from cows with the help of sophisticated machinery, coffee harvesting is still a manual task. Without workers going into the fields and picking the beans one-by-one, our morning mugs would be empty.

In Colombia, this is proving to a be a serious problem. October and November are peak harvest months, but this year, coffee pickers are scarce. In various coffee-growing regions, desperate producers are on the hunt for people to pick their beans. What's causing the labor shortage? Young people are being pulled away from Colombia's rural coffee-growing zones by employment opportunities in the cities. "Push" factors explaining the exodus include low rural wages and, in certain areas, security concerns.

In Antioquia, one of Colombia's 32 departments, the local government is seeking 40,000 workers. Why? Of the 94 coffee-producing communities in Antioquia, only 23 have enough workers to get the job done. In an attempt to bridge the labor gap, authorities there have launched what they call "Plan Cosecha" (harvest plan), which looks to inform, orient and organize coffee pickers. Ultimately, the idea is for available workers to move in a coordinated way from farm to farm, and thus hopefully meet the demand of all of the department's coffee-growing towns and cities.

The plan also promises to improve security conditions. In 91 of Antioquia's 125 municipalities, special security forces will be deployed to back up the nearly 1,500 soldiers already patrolling the department.

Other coffee-growing areas, such as the department of Risaralda, are following suit. Risaralda's version of Plan Cosecha is called "Engánchese," meaning "get hooked." The department is looking to hire some 10,000 coffee pickers, offering to train unemployed people from other sectors on how to collect coffee beans.

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

Photo - Triangulo del Cafe

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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