“In Colombia we drink imported coffee”

Coffee imports destined for Colombia’s domestic market and experiments in growing canefora coffee have generated concern among local coffee growers. They maintain the need to establish a tariff for imported coffee, with the purpose of promoting domestic consumption and preventing the proliferation of canephora coffee crops, which could adversely affect the quality and reputation of Colombian coffee worldwide.

Diario del Huila, Close-up

Amid the aromas and flavors that characterize Colombian coffee, a shadow hangs over the coffee growers and lovers of this emblematic drink. “In Colombia we drink imported coffee,” said Armando Bermeo, representative of Dignidad Cafetera in the department of Huila.unleashing a wave of questions about the paradox that the world’s third largest coffee producer has to resort to imports.

Despite being the third global coffee producer, Colombia is importing considerable quantities of beans, mainly Robustas and pasillas from countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Vietnam. This raises an intriguing question: how could a country with such an outstanding reputation for coffee production have to resort to importing?

The explanation lies in global challenges that affect the entire coffee industry. Climate change, labor shortages on farms, and low profitability for coffee growers are affecting production and supply. Global demand for coffee is increasing while supply is decreasing, which has led Colombia to increasingly rely on foreign sources to meet its domestic demand.

The increase in preference for instant coffee in Colombia has led to a change in consumption habits. According to the market research company Kantar, the percentage of households that purchased instant coffee increased from 79.2% in 2021 to 80.4% in 2022. This has driven demand for low-quality coffees and imported Robustas, used in the production of solubles.

Despite being known for its high-quality coffee, Colombia is at a crossroads as it increasingly relies on imports to meet growing domestic demand.

Impact of inflation

Global inflation is also directly affecting the price of daily coffee for Colombian consumers. Inflationary processes have led to an increase in prices, particularly affecting high-quality coffees produced in an artisanal way on the Colombian hillsides. This has led to increased consumption of low-cost solubles and mixtures.

«It is not that Colombians only like pasilla or freeze-dried coffees, it is a price issue. If until recently you had to pay $25,000 COP for a 340 g bag of regular coffee, today that same bag costs $40,000 COP,” according to Armando Bermeo.

Despite the challenges, roasted coffee in Colombia has seen growth in the regular and premium segments. The premium segment is expected to gain more than one million new households in the long term, based on consumption patterns observed in 2022. This suggests that, despite the massive importation of low-quality coffees, there is a growing demand for coffees. specials.

Price bonanza and its consequences

The price bonanza in 2021 and 2022, although it benefited coffee growers and exporters, triggered a series of unexpected consequences. The decrease in exportable supply led to the importation of Peruvian coffee and other places to fulfill international contracts. However, domestic demand was forced to be met by importing low-quality Arabica and Robusta blends.

Contrary to expectations, prices have not remained at high levels, and many Colombian coffee farmers are struggling to cover their production costs. Errors in the signing of contracts and unfulfilled delivery commitments have led to non-compliance and pressure to export more coffee, which has depleted the local market and favored the importation of cheaper coffees.

Threats to coffee quality

In addition to economic challenges, the quality of Colombian coffee faces a considerable threat. Armando Bermeo, representative of Dignidad Cafetera in Huila, highlights that this threat comes from nationwide experiments financed by state resources and supported by Nestlé. These experiments seek to grow canephora coffee, a species with a more robust flavor than Arabica. These bitter, low-altitude coffees are developed in warm climates and could compete directly with the quality of Colombian coffee.

The experiments are carried out in plots in Valle del Cauca, Nariño (specifically in Tumaco), and in Meta, which could represent direct competition with the quality of Colombian coffee. Furthermore, massive coffee imports have significantly affected quality, as evidenced by the discovery of seven thousand bags of coffee mixed with pasilla in Neiva, coming especially from Brazil and sent from Almacafé in Neiva for Café Buen Día, which were returned.

The tariff proposal

In the midst of this complex situation, the proposal to impose tariffs on coffee imports has gained strength. The Coffee Growers have requested the Ministry of Commerce to apply a 70% tariff to imports of coffee of any origin. This measure seeks to demonstrate Colombia’s ability to satisfy domestic demand with its pasilla production, without depending excessively on imports.

The initiative has received support from various sectors, with arguments that highlight the negative impacts of imports on the domestic market. However, the final say on tariffs lies with the Ministry of Commerce, which is currently evaluating the risks and benefits of this proposal.

The current situation poses significant challenges for the Colombian coffee industry. The decrease in production, competition with low-quality coffees and the threat of experiments with canefora coffee demand urgent measures to preserve the quality and sustainability of coffee production in the country.

As solutions are discussed, from imposing tariffs to finding more sustainable practices, the future of Colombian coffee remains in the balance. Coffee lovers, producers and the government are called to work together to overcome current challenges and ensure that Colombian coffee remains a globally recognized treasure.

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