COVID-19 Is Causing Labor Shortages On Colombian Coffee Farms

Colombia is in the middle of peak harvest season right now, which for many farmers means hiring as much temporary labor as is available in order to get all the coffee cherries picked at their most ripe. But as the coronavirus outbreak has done to the entirety of the coffee supply chain —and to producers in other countries—the harvest in Colombia is being hampered by a lack of available labor.

In an article published yesterday, it looks at coffee farms in the central region of Colombia, where nearly 25% of the required labor force is nowhere to be found due to COVID-19.

According to the article, farmers in the region require a temporary workforce of roughly 32,000—who normally come to the region from other parts of the country—in order to meet the requirements of harvest. This year, though, the region finds itself about 7,000 workers short of that number.

To combat this, farms are implementing new safety measures, including the addition of handwashing stations and temperature checks. Some larger farms are even expanding living quarters via additional dorms or tents, allowing for workers to better space out and for beds to be placed two meters apart. Even still, the workers aren’t showing up.

Labor shortages have been an issue for some time now thanks to jobs in better-paying industries like “highway construction and the illegal coca crop,” but farmers were initially optimistic a shortage could be avoided this season. With the unemployment rate in Colombia 50% higher than where it was this time last year, producers hoped that the increased number of people looking for work would offset any workforce losses due to those choosing to stay at home during the pandemic. But that has not proven to be the case.

For now, the main issue for producers is the race against the clock to get all the cherries harvested in time. Cold and rainy weather has slowed the maturation process a bit, allowing farms like Santa Isabel to avoid major losses due to the shortage. But without the available workforce, other farms may not be as lucky.

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