Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coffee Talk: Thoughts from Mexico

So I just got back from a quick trip to visit some coffee farms in the rural areas of Oaxaca Mexico. All of the farmers I spoke with grew organic shade grown coffee. They were proud of the organic ideals and believed in them. I’m not a biologist, but when they say shade grown they mean it. A thick overhang of tasty banana and orange trees covers the coffee trees, which seem like a natural part of the landscape. This is a stark difference between the coffee fields I saw in Costa Rica and Honduras on previous trips with rows of coffee trees uncovered or under a couple of banana trees.

Even with fair trade prices received by farmers, about a $1 a pound it is tough to make much from coffee farming. The typical person I talked to received somewhere between $500 and $1,000 in revenue for their small 1-3 hectare farm. Organic coffee farming is a lot of work, requiring a lot weeding and pruning. Although many also grew their own corn, a few had other jobs, and many received remittances from US relatives.

Now back to the fair trade part. The price received by farmers outside of the fair trade cooperative was almost the same as those not in organizations this year. In that sense there was not much of a premium this year.

The question I’m interested in is how do the young people (ages 14-30) in these rural villages decide between going to high school, migrating, and staying. I get the sense that most people would like stay if there was a good job, but when the village is 5 hours to Oaxaca City and a small farm produces only a $1,000 worth of crops it is difficult choice.

As the work progresses, I’ll keep you informed.

Until then there is a whole lot of coffee to be drunk before this paper is finished.
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