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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Legislator: New challenge facing island coffee industry must be met

An island lawmaker says companies that process and pack coffee are not buying locally grown beans because it is cheaper to work with coffee imported from Mexico.

By John McPhaul

Despite the serious impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria on the Puerto Rican coffee industry, the strength and consistency of the island’s farmers has managed, little by little, to raise the industry, which is once again at a crossroads.

Now it is not the mature coffee itself, but that the roasters -- companies that process and pack the product -- are not buying the coffee, since it is cheaper to work with coffee imported from Mexico that the government brings to the island to meet local demand.

“There was a time when there was not enough local coffee, but now that there is, it has to have priority for two reasons: because it is ours, and because it is of better quality,” said Rep. Jorge Alfredo Rivera Segarra, who chairs the Agriculture Committee in the island House of Representatives. “It is impossible for the coffee harvest to be lost because the roasters do not have the commercial incentives for local production to be preferred.”

“The Department of Agriculture must move quickly so that mature coffee is sold in its entirety,” said the legislator, who represents House District 22 composed of Lares, Utuado, Adjuntas and Jayuya.

Last year, the “almud” (the measure used in the coffee industry, roughly a bushel) was paid at between $20 and $22, and workers were paid $9. A bushel represents 28 pounds of fresh coffee beans. When pulped and dried, about five pounds are left, so between 20 and 22 bushel units are needed to obtain a quintal of coffee for the roast.

“Those prices of $20 to $22 per bushel should be the standard, and not come down from there, especially because production costs have gone up,” said Rivera Segarra, who referred to a report by Felipe Gómez Martínez that was broadcast earlier this week on Noticentro 4, where several farmers stated that under the current scenario, the harvest could be lost in its entirety.

“Let us remember that in Puerto Rico we consume 450,000 quintals of coffee annually,” Rivera Segarra said. “The sensible thing is that the priority is to buy the local coffee, and then make use of the supply of foreign coffee. It is important that the government accelerate solutions, that promises related to production incentives are kept, and that our coffee has priority in the market. The call is for the Department of Agriculture to move quickly and generate solutions to this situation. Naturally, they have the full cooperation of the Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives.”

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