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Coffee in Colombia, a long story

As you know, in December we’ll be heading to Colombia to tour coffee plantations and discover the country, which is a coffee pioneer. But to get more out of the upcoming trip, a quick step back in time could be very instructive!

First steps

The Jesuits are often credited with introducing coffee to Colombia, in 1723. In fact, it seems the Jesuit priests brought the seeds of the coffee plant from Venezuela. While actual coffee farming (again, by the Jesuits) can be traced back as far as 1732, commercial coffee production did not develop until the end of the 18th century.

It was in the 19th century that coffee really began to take hold in Colombia, particularly after the country won its independence from Spain in 1810. Between 1850 and 1880, it appears coffee production increased by some 9900%, from 1000 bags per year to over 100,000.

By 1912, coffee accounted for 50% of Colombia’s exports. In 1930, the country reached an annual export level of 3 million bags: Colombia was now producing over 10% of the coffee on the world market.

 

José Gumilla, Jesuit priest

Growth and maturity of Colombia’s coffee growing industry

From 1910 to the end of World War II, Colombia’s coffee growing industry developed rapidly. Midway through this period, it is estimated that coffee growing provided a livelihood for about one-third of the total population. Moreover, 1927 saw the creation of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC), also known as Fedecafé. We’ll talk more about this coffee-growing federation in another blog; what’s important here is that it played and still plays an active role in the country’s overall development. Unfortunately, while coffee has been beneficial for the country, Colombia slid dangerously toward dependence on this economic sector. The Golden Age seems to have ended in 1948, with the outbreak of the country’s civil war.

 

"Las Chapoleras" by the Rodriguez brothers

1950 to the present: an erratic sector

During this period, growth in Colombia’s coffee sector has constantly see-sawed. After a downturn of nearly 30 years until the mid-1970s, growth picked up, notably due to problems experienced by competitor Brazil. When frosts decimated Brazilian harvests, buyers and consumers turned to Colombia, allowing it to recapture global market share. Technological advances also allowed for better growing, and in the 1980s exports surged once again, with revenues tripling compared to those of the 1970s.

The boom did not last and a new crisis set in as of 1990. Coffee was now being traded on the stock market, and large-scale speculation ensued. Coffee prices plummeted so low that coffee farmers went on strike. All of this allowed Vietnam to edge Colombia out of its second-place ranking among the world’s coffee producers. Finally, the leaf rust fungus has depressed the country’s production since 2008. Still, the impacts on the country aren’t as severe, since coffee is no longer Colombia’s star product, and the country’s welfare is much less dependent on it. What has taken its place? Oil.

 

Sources 

Has Bean Coffee (2015). https://www.hasbean.co.uk/blogs/articles/10073877-colombia

James Hoffmann (2014). The World Atlas of Coffee  

Par Anónimo (siglo XVIII) — Hernández Caballero, Serafín (Editor). (1998): Gran Enciclopedia de Venezuela. Editorial Globe, C.A. Caracas. 10 volúmenes. ISBN 980-6427-00-9 ISBN 980-6427-10-6, Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23391355

 

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