Category Archives: Coffee

Coffee Rust Worse Problem for Border and Coffee Drinkers than Reported

10293579_812218472164492_6052867961713463478_oNew Orleans        Sometimes you know it’s bad, but you still haven’t wrapped your mind around the full ripple effects of how bad it might be. Focusing on the immigration crisis for children and families at the Mexico-United States border, I have concentrated on the problems we knew were coming from communities organized by ACORN International, especially in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, which have been among the leading areas that children are fleeing. ACORN Honduras members – and mothers – demonstrated in both cities recently both at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa and at the First Lady’s office in San Pedro Sula, demanding more security from gangs and violence to protect their children.

There’s no question that narco-war and gang violence in Central America is driving an exodus. Another factor, less reported, but arguably significant is not in the cities, but in the economic devastation that is now hitting the rural areas where coffee growing farmers and their cooperatives grow some of the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world. Preparing to interview someone recently returned from the region, a statistic in the Wall Street Journal woke me up to the severity of the crisis when they estimated the economic damage in the region this year as likely $500 million in lost sales and 350,000 jobs lost in the countryside.

Stanley Kuehn is a fellow who hasn’t shaken the natural Texas twang from being raised in Rio Grande City, a poor community along the border where I’ve stopped more than once, and when you ask him where he works there’s an alphabet soup that spills out. The simplest part of it is that he is the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. The longer spiel is that he represents the National Cooperative Business Association and the Cooperative League USA and is also tied into something else called VEGA, the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance. Whew! Trust me though, after interviewing him during Wade’s World on KABF/FM. if you can make it through the alphabet there, the message is vital.

Stanley says that the devastation to the coffee crop is huge. Honduras may be the lightest hit with 25% losses, but Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are all either moving towards 50% losses or already up to 60%. Losing this much of this cash crop will decimate some communities.

The cause? Stanley says it is climate change more than anything else. Coffee plants have gotten weaker with rising temperatures, less shade, abandoned plots without proper pruning, hotter summers and cooler winters, all of which have combined into something unstoppable. The roya fungus originated in Ethiopia some years ago, but has accelerated now. The fix isn’t simple. There are organic pesticides and better pruning methods that can save some trees and will make a difference in the future, but where they have to be cut down and replanted it will mean five or six years until good beans can be replaced. Coffee drinkers will get their fix by paying some higher prices for the good stuff or drinking robusta from Brazil on the cheap end, but many of the farmers and their cooperatives will be decimated in the meantime.

We’re going to have to talk to Stanley more. He’s relocating to Salvador this coming January to go hands-on one-hundred percent. He needs help from farmers or anyone who wants to put their back to the job.

We’re going to see more families from Central America forced to become economic refugees. This will be a bitter brew for years in the region.

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Traveler’s Travails in Bolivia, Peru, & Miami: Coffee So Bad, Transfers So Long

Lima and Miami      In Bolivia coca leaves in hot water is the drink recommended for altitude adaptation.  It’s what they grow, so it’s what they drink.  In Peru they grow some pretty good beans.  We’ve handled some Peruvian fairtrade at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse to brew a good cup, so it’s not as if there isn’t anything to work with there.

But, the common fare that passes for a cup of coffee along the Andes is really pretty terrible.  A black sludge of sort is brewed and then cut with hot water.  In fact, in Cochabamba the coffee urn was specially designed with two spigots, one for the sludge and one for the water.  At the other end of the spectrum were largely Star bucks-type shops with modernistic designs like 4D, Star Coffee, and others.  There are occasional exceptions like Barrisco’s in Peru down from our office in Jesus Maria, but these are all espresso based coffees.  When discussing the phenomena with Orfa Camacho, ACORN Peru’s head organizer, she both boasted that Peru had the second best coffee in South America after Columbia, and then flatly stated that the problem was that “people don’t know how to make coffee.”

I made it by cheating.  I carried my 2-cup stainless steel plunge pot, picked up on my last visit to Mumbai with Vinod Shetty for a couple of bucks and a pound of Fair Grinds New Orleans Blend, fairtrade coffee & chicory.  We would have a good cup in the morning, and hope that lasted through the day with a shot of espresso somewhere on the trail if we were lucky.

But, why, is coffee so disregarded and abused.  The folks we would see in the Starbucks-wannabe places were teens and post-teens drinking fancy sugar-and-milk drinks where coffee is an afterthought.  The workday folks were forced to drink swill.  It seems like there’s a real opportunity for some evangelizing on the coffee trail, if we had the energy and resources.  In the meantime, it’s just sad that life in the morning is made so hard for our Peruvian and Bolivian brothers and sisters.

Speaking of sad thoughts, another one is landing in the Miami International Airport after a long international flight from anywhere.  The MIA folks have done a lot of construction on the airport and its concourses in recent years, and it is an improvement though every report notes that the distances traveled between concourses and the slowness of the SkyTrain are both absurdly ridiculous still.

All of this pales next to the problem of flight transfer.  MIA is the only airport I can recall where when you clear customs with your luggage there is no way to immediately transfer it to your carrier for your connecting flight.  Yes, really!  So, you come out of customs and then have to schlep your luggage jammed packed with everything you could haul back from your adventures from the customs clearance to whatever your concourse might be.  In our case that was D where we were picking up American as another part of the One World fiasco.  Between conveyor walkways that were shutdown, we strong-armed our bags a half-mile or more, and I’m not kidding.  All of which was great exercise, but is this any way to run either an airport or our airlines?  As Orfa would say, they just don’t seem to know how to make airports in Miami, I guess?

Miami International Airport

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