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346. Coffee rust: Renovation

2013-04-09 Comments Off on 346. Coffee rust: Renovation

Long before and quite apart from the coffee rust outbreak in Central America, I proposed a presentation for this year’s SCAA Expo on what we have been calling “the productivity gap” — the difference between what smallholder farmers CAN produce and what they actually DO produce.  The productivity gap is big, and its effect on smallholder income is significant.  A leading cause is the advanced age of the region’s coffee plantations.  The coffeelands in Central America are filled with semi-productive plants that look something like this:


In order for smallholder farmers to be able to consistently generate the kinds of yields they need to turn a profit, their coffee should look more like this.


Unfortunately, thanks to coffee rust, the coffeelands in Central America are littered with plants that look more like this:

Central America desperately needed to renovate its coffee fields on a massive scale even before the current coffee rust crisis.  The bad news is that now the need for renovation is even bigger, more urgent.  The estimates I have seen suggest that it will cost $800 million to $1 billion to renovate the region’s coffee farms on the scale that is required.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that now there is no denying the need for renovation, and there is a greater likelihood farmers will get the funding they needed anyway.

In the end, the coffee rust discussion has may have superseded the issue of the productivity gap.  (Ironically, my presentation on the productivity gap is scheduled opposite a panel discussion on coffee rust on Friday morning.)  Still, my presentation may be helpful in framing the issue of smallholder productivity and profitability as we prepare for region-wide renovation in Central America.  It is based on data we collected and work we did to boost smallholder productivity in Mexico and Central America between 2008 and 2011 as part of our CAFE Livelihoods project.  For anyone interested in the topic who can’t make my presentation (or will be next door participating in the coffee rust discussion, where I would be if I weren’t otherwise engaged), here is a sneak preview of what I will present.

[slidepress gallery=’coffeelands-the-productivity-gap’]

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Bean Counting: Smallholder Productivity and Profitability is scheduled for Friday, 12 April 2013 at 10:30 am in room 251.

Leaf Rust: Testing our Resiliency as an Industry is scheduled for the same time slot in room 252A.