The Pulitzer Centre wrote a detailed article looking at the challenges faced by the Colombian coffee industry. Author Brett Marsh documents the life of several farm workers juxtaposed to the local youths who prefer to work as mechanics, delivery drivers or who leave for the bigger cities. Retiring workers often struggle to make ends meet, and some will become homeless.

Working as a mechanic, Martinez claims that his earnings, while variable, can be 100,000 pesos, (or $25 USD), or more on a good day. A good pay day working in the fields, on the other hand, yields about 40,000 pesos, ($10 USD).

Colombia’s Coffee Plantations Struggle With an Aging Workforce | Pulitzer Center

The coffee industry is threatened with collapse because there is a shortage of labour. Of those who are left, many are in the late stages of work and not willing to do the work to sustain the industry. In Colombia’s coffee-growing areas, there are fewer and fewer young people capable of supporting the coffee industry.

The coffee plantations in Antioquia, Colombia, provide the perfect environment for coffee farmers to grow. There is cool mountain air, birdsong and beautiful sights. It is a paradise, but it is no longer the idyllic setting it once was.

The young men here do not like the heat or the dirt, and they certainly do not like the lack of a good mobile phone network

Ruben Dario Sanchez, the owner of Finca Entre

The lives of tens of thousands of informal workers, mostly men, in the Colombian coffee industry are marked by financial and social insecurity. With few jobs paying the legal minimum wage or social benefits, there are few opportunities for collective bargaining or union organising. After a lifetime of physical labour, most of them reach retirement age (57 for women, 62 for men) with little or no savings. They work well into their 60s and 70s.

Many coffee farmers leave the plantations and migrate to other sectors, such as avocado and citrus plantations. These plantations usually offer equal or higher wages than the coffee plantations, with less physical effort.

It is not easy to keep the young people and show them that a life here is possible

Elkin Arcila, head of ASCAFES, a coffee association in Támesis.

Photo Credit: ©2015CIAT/NeilPalmer Nariño Coffee 4 | A farmer in Colombia’s Nariño Department c… | Flickr

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