At the nexus of quality and quantity in coffee production, there sits Colombia, the third largest coffee producer in the world. The sheer number of Colombian coffees you’ll find on specialty cafe shelves speaks to the widespread popularity—and accessibility—of Colombian coffee worldwide. But that status is threatened. Unpredictable weather and a turbulent, multi-faceted global economy are causing major problems for Colombia’s coffee production, leaving many farmers scrambling for answers.
As reported by El País, the challenges currently facing Colombia are familiar ones. Adverse weather patterns are limiting the country’s total coffee output. In particular, prolonged droughts caused by El Niño aren’t allowing cherries to ripen. Coupled with more intense rainy seasons that lead to cherries falling off the tree before they are ripe, weather is but one of the many factors that has led to Colombia’s yearly coffee production dipping down to 11 million bags from the 14 million bag average.
Beyond weather, Colombia faces a flagging global demand for coffee. One estimate from Rabobank found that “coffee imports into the European Union and the United Kingdom fell by 13% in the second quarter of this year, while the United States registered a decrease of 11% year-over-year.” Meanwhile, the country must deal with the market whims driven by production in Brazil, the global leader. Currently, a bumper crop of 64 million 132lb bags—along with another one expected next year—is already moving coffee prices downward.
This all contributes to what Albert Scala, the vice president of StoneX, a financial services company, calls a “generational change.” With coffee production being unpredictable at best and unprofitable at worst, many of the younger generation are abandoning rural work and heading for the city.
It is an uncertain future for coffee, in Colombia or otherwise. There is no single solution to the web of problems facing coffee growers. One thing remains clear, though. The longer we wait to address the problems, the more difficult—and maybe permanent—they may become.