As the coffee harvest progresses in El Salvador, I have been reading articles about the coffee economy. The harvest which begins in October is about 25% complete, and 50% of the beans will be harvested by the end of December. Forecasts call for a coffee harvest equal in size to last year's harvest. The price of arabica coffee, grown in Central America, on world markets is up more than 20% from last year.

That price rise is good news for El Salvador, but the country still feels deeply the effects of the coffee crisis. The coffee crisis of the past 5 years saw coffee prices plummet to their lowest levels in the past century. Fueled by a worldwide glut of robusta coffee grown in Vietnam and Brazil, coffee farmers across the world from Latin America to Africa and beyond saw a dramatic reduction in their income. In El Salvador, Guatemala and elsewhere, thousands of rural families were forced to leave rural areas and migrated to the cities, or became illegal immigrants making their way to the United States. Hundreds and hundreds of small farmers lost their farms in bankruptcies. Showing how great the migration out of coffee growing areas has been, recent stories in the Salvadoran press have mentioned a shortage of laborers to work in the harvest this year. Frontline on PBS broadcast a documentary in May 2003 and has an accompanying web site with much material on the coffee crisis.

There are small glimmers of hope. The Fair Trade movement helps to get better prices for small farmers by eliminating middlemen. Farmers are being encouraged to switch to high quality, gourmet coffees which fetch a higher price from coffee buyers (can we say "Starbucks culture'?). In addition, a wide variety of groups have come together to formulate a common code for the Coffee Community. Learn about it at Common Code for the Coffee Community .