Coffee Crisis

As flavorsome coffee pours out from machines across the world, the millions of workers who pick the coffee beans, the second most-traded commodity in the world, are often overlooked. On faraway hillsides they toil amid dire working conditions with little pay. Volatile price fluctuations, lack of credit opportunities and aggressive plant plagues leave many farmers in a vulnerable position.

Jarman started covering coffee issues in the late 1990's, when a surge in coffee production in Brazil and Vietnam created oversupply in the global markets, causing wholesale coffee prices to plummet. Nearly 25 million small-scale coffee producers faced financial ruin, and many were forced to abandon the crop.

Through continuous assignments, she has witnessed the proliferation of specialty certification programs aimed to protect farmers, such as fair trade, organic, and bird friendly, that promise guaranteed quality premiums to small-scale farmers organized in cooperatives. These certifications have been marketed as a panacea solution, but the programs are not without pitfalls, critics argue.

Jarman’s most recent coffee work takes us to Central America and Southern Mexico, where persistent outbreaks of coffee leaf "rust" continue to threaten crops throughout the already volatile region. The situation is causing a new coffee crisis that has growers and authorities scrambling for answers. She is also documenting an innovative fair trade project involving a Nicaraguan coffee estate that aims to treat its workers in a more dignified way.

After a long day of picking coffee, Juan Torres, 60, rests on the wooden planks where he sleeps, inside a room he shares with other workers on a coffee estate near Matagalpa, Nicaragua. The farm employs mostly migrant workers who live on the farm during the coffee harvest.
Reina Isabel Guido leads her group to one of the highest points of Finca La Revancha (1,000m) in the early morning. La Revancha became the first Fair Trade certified coffee estate in Central America in November 2013. The estate's owners have enforced a host of standards that not only enhance coffee quality but also benefit their 96 permanent and 500 temporary workers throughout the year.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico (Photo © Janet Jarman 2013) - A family from Colombo, Guatemala, sorts through hundreds of coffee cherries separating the unripe green cherries that will undergo different processing into lower quality coffee. The mother (right) complained about abuses on the farm where they previously worked. She said the farm’s supervisor refused to provide medical assistance when one of her children fell gravely ill and refused to pay them for the labor they provided. Afraid of having to return to Guatemala, they escaped one night walking until they found work with better conditions on this large farm managed by a fellow Guatemalan.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Aida Yanira Chavez, 3, plays around a coffee plant while her parents (mother pictured in background) pick coffee. Most Guatemalan coffee pickers working in Chiapas are either lone men or parents with young children who have no choice but to bring them along for the three-month harvesting season.
After a long and arduous day of picking coffee cherries, two men make their way across a creek and through dense vegetation to a main camp, where workers deliver their coffee harvests at the end of each day to be measured and recorded.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
In Chiapas, Mexico, Guatemalan coffee picker Rosa Diaz works her way around coffee leaves infected with a plague called roya (leaf rust/rouille orangée). Now widespread in Central American and Mexican coffee growing regions, the plague, which experts say is caused largely by climate change, is a great source of concern for producers and coffee workers, as it will likely severely affect harvest yields in the coming seasons.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
A young man carries a heavy sack weighing approximately 60kg, filled with the coffee cherries he picked in one day, working on a coffee estate in Chiapas, Mexico. Many men leave their families in Guatemala to work as migrant laborers during the coffee harvest in Mexico, where they can have guaranteed work for several months and earn more than they can back home.
A company truck winds through the vast Zaragoza coffee estate in Nicaragua, carrying workers with their daily coffee harvest. The owner worked for many years in the United States for large agricultural corporations before returning home to Nicaragua to run this family estate that employs over 600 workers during the harvest season.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico - A group of Guatemalan coffee pickers gather around their daily coffee harvest to sort through thousands of cherries, separating the unripe green cherries which will undergo different processing into lower quality coffee. The once-processed beans from the green cherries are sold for less than a third of the red cherry price. They are usually processed into instant coffee for national consumption, not for export.
Coffee pickers check in after a long and arduous day of picking coffee cherries on a coffee estate in Chiapas, Mexico. Many of the farm’s workers are Guatemalan. They work as migrant laborers during the coffee harvest in Mexico, where they can have guaranteed work for several months and earn more than they can back home.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico - At the end of a long day picking coffee, Hernán Gonzalez (L) and Timotea Pérez sort through hundreds of kilos of coffee cherries, separating the unripe green cherries which will undergo different processing into lower quality coffee. Coffee pickers throughout Chiapas earn on average 80 pesos (5 euros) per day, according to quantity picked. At the end of each day, quantities are calculated. Workers sort the fruit, after which it will be de-pulped and spread onto patios for drying.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
At the end of a long day picking coffee cherries, a group of Guatemalan women and children crowd around a community television to watch a popular Mexican “telenovela” (soap opera). This coffee farm, near Jaltenango, Chiapas, Mexico, provides above average living conditions for its workers, providing them with consistent meals and concrete dormitories, in contrast to makeshift wooden structures on many other estates.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico - Francisco Ramirez, 7, leads his family's donkey from the backyard of his home through the living room and out to a dirt road. The animal is a great asset to the family as they harvest coffee and corn. Ramirez' family are members of Triunfo Verde, a coffee cooperative of small scale producers based in Jaltenango, Chiapas. The cooperative sells a large quantity of members' coffee to Fair Trade USA and has used some of the proceeds from the Fair Trade premium to set up a health monitoring system for women in remote coffee growing villages.
Eli Emanuel Raiter, 27, carries his grandmother, Angelica Flores Martinez, 94, to an Evangelical church service in the small community where they live, inside Finca La Revancha. a coffee estate in La Dalia, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Flores picked coffee as young girl and throughout her life, until she could no longer work and lost one leg to illness. She is a recipient of a monthly food supply assistance program funded by the farm's Fair Trade premium.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
Guatemalan coffee pickers convene around a morning fire to warm the breakfast that will sustain them during a long day of harvesting coffee cherries in Chiapas, Mexico. They come yearly to this farm from Northern Guatemala. According to their group leader, they choose to return to this farm, since the owners give them rice, unlike on other farms, where abuse has been reported.
Aguas Negras
Florentina Aguilar, 74 (L) and Malania García, 49, graze sheep in Hidalgo’s primary irrigation district. Throughout the region livestock survive predominantly on alfalfa, all of which is grown using black water, or untreated sewage. Some farmers have witnessed pregnant animals aborting after being exposed to the undiluted sewage that arrives during the dry season. Human consumption of livestock exposed to black water through fodder carries potential risk, though few studies have been undertaken to measure health effects.
Coffee Production: Chiapas, Mexico
In Jaltenango, a primary coffee distribution center in Mexico’s Chiapas state, a team of workers efficiently load a truck with 492 sacks destined for a central depot in Tuxtla Gutierrez for further processing and export. Working together swiftly, the men can load a truck this size in 90 minutes. They load up to six trailers in one day. The carriers can earn up to 10 times what coffee pickers make in one day, making it one of the more desirable but also most challenging jobs in the coffee industry.
Coffee Crisis
Narcisso Reyes Gutierrez proudly inhales the aroma of his own coffee beans, before passing them on for inspection at a cooperative office near his farm. Reyes is a member of a Nicaraguan cooperative named Las Brumas, well known for producing some of the country's highest quality coffee. Farmers belonging to Las Brumas have benefited from the price premium placed on organic Fair Trade coffee and have used these funds to build a school in their community and to improve roads.