The coffee leaf rust crisis that spread far and wide throughout the Americas in 2012 has had a lasting negative impact on El Salvador, which is still struggling to find ways to boost farmer profitability and increase export earnings to reach previous levels.
According to the Salvadoran Coffee Council (Consejo Salvadoreño del Cafe, or CSC), the number of coffee jobs in El Salvador has decreased by more than 40,000, from more than 86,000 to to 45,000 over the past five years as younger generations have fled coffee farms in search of better opportunities, while coffee is no longer the country’s leading source of export revenue.
“The main problem faced by the Salvadoran coffee sector continues to be a lack of strategy to create sustainability and profit for coffee farmers,” the USDA’s Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) wrote in its recent annual report on the Salvadoran coffee sector. “While there are some efforts by the government to implement assistance programs, they have not been effective in helping producers recover from losses due to rust.”
There are a number of well-documented historical factors outlined in the GAIN report that compounded the leaf rust epidemic that so dramatically hurt El Salvador’s coffee sector — widespread farmer debt and lack of access to additional loans, low international coffee prices, increased production costs, and aging coffee plants chief among them.
Yet there are also numerous organizational and political efforts afoot to help revive the sector, particularly in the high-quality specialty market, where events like Cup of Excellence have clearly proven value potential within the country, while demonstrating the ingenuity of individual coffee farms or farmer organizations in driving up quality through processing techniques. The country will also play host to the second World Coffee Science Summit next month, which is designed to find ways for a more prosperous future for coffee farmers throughout the world through research, education and training.
Another ongoing effort to reach new premium markets is the Geographical Indication, or denomination of origin, program being led by the CSC in response to federal government initiatives to revive the sector.
Despite these and other positive influences on the Salvadoran coffee sector, the GAIN report suggests a more organized approach is needed to better connect El Salvador’s Arabica coffees to profitable export markets.
“The future of El Salvador’s coffee sector will depend upon the ability of both producers and government institutions to implement a strategy to get out of the crisis that includes debt re-structuring, repayment periods, and a unified coffee association that oversees research, technical assistance, quality control, labor, food security, and crop diversification,” GAIN agricultural specialist Miguel Herrera wrote in the report. “If these issues are not addressed, the number of farmers that have already abandoned their farms (currently 30 percent), will continue to grow, deepening a crisis in labor, the environment and the economy.”