Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world. It supplies 12% of the world’s production of coffee.
The main harvest for Colombian coffee beans is primarily between October and March, in which they are in the middle of peak harvest at the moment.
In an article published by the BBC News, the Colombian province of Antioquia is struggling with labour shortages this year, as pickers want to shelter during the Covid pandemic.
The Santa Isabel Estate in Colombia has been growing and roasting coffee on its premises for almost four decades.
The farm has 900,000 coffee bushes and is one of many farms in the Colombian province of Antioquia that is struggling with labour shortages this year.
During the harvesting season, it is common for farms to hire additional temporary coffee pickers but it has become harder to hire amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A farmer told BBC News that people are reluctant to work due to the higher risk imposed from the pandemic as people could come from anywhere, and they do not wear face masks. It is hard to avoid contact with others.
Farmers are also sharing dormitories. To prevent outbreaks, farms have taken bio-security measures that include adding hand-washing stations and temperature checks, to try and protect their coffee pickers.
Some of the larger farms have also expanded their dormitories or added tents so that their workers are more spaced out, with their bunk beds placed two metres apart, but these measures have not attracted as many workers as farmers had hoped for, even though the unemployment rate in Colombia is about 50% higher than it was a year ago.
Low prices for beans mean there is not much money to offer for more workers by luring them with higher wages.
Ángel García, Santa Isabel Estate Farm Manage said,
If we cannot get more workers we could lose some of our crop.
The beans will fall and rot on the ground.
Every year, the province of Antioquia needs to employ around 32,000 coffee pickers from other parts of the country to collect its harvest, between the peak months of September and December.
According to Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers, by mid-November there was still a deficit of 7,000 coffee pickers.
Coffee pickers in Colombia are paid about $0.15 (£0.11) for every kilogram of beans they collect. On a good day, a coffee picker can make up to $30 a day, gathering 200kg of beans.
It is three times as much money as what a worker on the national minimum wage makes. But the job is physically demanding and does not provide a fixed income or health insurance.
Not only are farms hiring native Colombians, they are also reaching out to neighbouring Venezuelan migrants who needs the money to be sent home. In Venezuela, the monthly minimum wage is currently worth only around $1.60.
A Venezuelan worker said,
We can’t let the coronavirus scare us. For people like us the priority is to work.
Labour shortages have been going on for years in Colombia, but not to this extent. Similar cases occurred earlier this year in Costa Rica coffee farms too.