Although Central America produces 15% of the world’s arabica beans, the people involved in coffee production are not seeing a future in it. The poor financial returns, as well as the recent coffee crisis, forced hundreds of thousands to flee up north to the U.S.
About 10% of the population, approximately 5 million people in Central America, rely on the coffee sector for survival, according to the SICA intergovernmental group.
Yet coffee production is in decline with a drop of 10% recorded in Central America since October 2017, with another 3% drop being forecast for the current 2021/22 season.
Farmers already have debts and losses accumulating from the past few years after losing out to Brazil. Despite the fact that coffee prices recovered in the middle of this year and some farmers were able to break even, the declining output contributes to the difficulty in reaching profitability.
Adding to the region’s woes was the unwelcome scourge of coffee leaf rust, which further affected the region’s production and profits. The fungus was stimulated by the humidity following hurricanes Eta and Iota, which themselves caused devastation and impacted coffee farmers. Recent studies show the disease is estimated to have increased among coffee plants from the single digits in the 2019/20 harvest to as much as 25% in the current season.
This crisis also caused a record high in the U.S.-Mexico migrant flow this year, despite migrant surges occurring periodically whenever there is fluctuation in the coffee sector. René León-Gómez, executive secretary of PROMECAFE, a regional research network formed by the national coffee institutes of Central America, stated:
When coffee is not doing well, that’s when you see big migrations from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua…The decision of farmers to migrate north is the last resort. They have been producing at a loss for years and often also working on larger farms to make ends meet.René León-Gómez, executive secretary of PROMECAFE
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), there had been a record high of 1.7 million apprehensions at the border of the U.S. and Mexico in the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30th. These figures do not include those who succeeded in crossing the border illegally, which means the exact numbers of those fleeing up north is unknown.
Based on the Honduran Coffee Institute data, IHCAFE for three months in 2019, 5.4% of 990 Honduran coffee farmers reported that at least one family member had left for the U.S.
If these figures are applied to the rest of the country’s coffee industry, that equals about 6% of Hondurans’ total unauthorised border crossings in just three months.
Some coffee farmers are simply giving up and selling their possession, whether that be their Oxen or their homes, and setting their site on migration up north to the border as their best chance for salvation regardless of the dangers involved.