Thursday, January 24, 2013

Colombia Decaffeinated?

Good Colombian arabica coffee beans, green on left and roasted on the right. 

Colombia is no longer coffee country. Oh, sure, Colombia will continue producing coffee, coffee will continue being an important crop, and, hopefully, the country will long be known for high-quality arabica coffee.

A German-language banner announces 'The best coffee
of Colombia' from Cafe de la Fonda. 
But the days when coffee was the country's economic mainstay are behind us, and that's bad news. That's true not only because the coffee harvest has declined so much that 2011 saw the smallest harvest in 30 years, at 7.8 million sacks, but also because Asian nations have recently become coffee powerhouses. (In fact,  for domestic consumption, Colombia actually imports inexpensive robusta coffee
- sometimes from as far away as Vietnam.)

But, Colombia's no longer coffee country for a second, also unfortunate reason: it's becoming an oil country.

Juan Valdez, the brand created by Colombia's
cooperative of coffee farmers. 
As coffee production has declined, Colombia's output of petroleum and coal has risen. Economists talk about the country pumping out a million barrels per day of oil, which would be close to half of OPEC member Venezuela.

But, while oil may be worth more, this is still a bad deal for Colombia. According to coffee organizations, some 560,000 families, or several million people, grow  coffee in Colombia. Having a coffee farm is proud, healthy way of life (as long as they don't use too many pesticides). And, when the coffee is shade grown, it can contribute to biodiversity. In contrast, fossil fuel production, with its huge machines, provides few jobs, often feeds corruption, and I won't even touch on its environmental impacts except to point out that global warming is damaging Colombia's coffee farms.



A petroleum-based economy is also bad for democracy, as a glance at Venezuela's ailing democracy and the dictatorships in many Middle Eastern nations shows.



By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

6 comments:

Stuart Oswald said...

Colombian coffee growers need to rise to the challenge that others are posing to their trade. As for the comments of corruption in less advanced nations being linked somehow with just oil, that is completely false and wrong of you to form an argument on it.

Richard McColl said...

That Colombia is becoming an Oil/ Mining country is worrying due to the lack of checks and restrictions on the industries, but by the same rationale, Colombia has to diversify its economy and industry away from just Coffee or result in being a northern version of agrarian Argentina.

Miguel said...

I couldn't agree with you more Richard. Colombia needs to diversify, particularly by developing manufacturing industries. Preferably clean ones.

Mike

Miguel said...

Hi Stuart,
, ,
I'm surprised you're not with me on this one. It's not that corruption is linked with "just oil", but oil often contributes to it. There are exceptions, of course, like Canada and Norway, but they're a minority. The Venezuelas, Ecuadors, etc are much more common. This happens because the oil industry generates relatively few paychecks, but huge royalties for the government. And, Stuart, do you believe that the government is honest, efficient at using our money?
, ,
A oil-dependent economies also have over-valued currencies and huge ups and downs with the price of oil. Those characteristics hinder the development of other industries.
, ,
Mike

Stuart Oswald said...

Thanks for your reply. The issue of corruption is evident wherever money/value flows. Trying to pin in to oil is nonsensical. An economy functions better for all, when it is allowed to function freely and naturally under capitalism (With market pressure being it's only counterbalance). The thing I admire most about you is that, (from what I read) you live by your principals. Avoiding such products and services that cause damage (as you see it) to the environment. But trying to suppress freedom via a bullyboy government out of some sort of nationalism/idealism is something you and I know is of a deeper evil. A free market, is the most democratic of any human system and puts such claim by so called governments to shame. To pretend otherwise is not doing facts or intelligence any favours.

Miguel said...

Hi Stuart,

I beg to differ. Capitalism is certainly a powerful economic system. However, unrestrained capitalism brings us phenomena such as the Standar Oil monopoly, which is bad for the overall economy, bad for competition and innovation and bad for the company's employees.
, ,
Take nations like Canada or Scandanavia with strong, active governments. They have generally strong economies, high incomes and high qualities of life. Look at nations where the gov't places few restraints on business activities: Russia, Somalia or Paraguay, etc, which are so corrupt or weak that those with money do whatever they like. Those countries have lots of problems, generally poor incomes and low qualities of life except for a powerful few.
, ,
I'm not trying to pick on oil. All commodities tend to feed corruption. Oil just happens to be the biggest commodity of all.
, ,
I am a tremendous hypocrite, by the way. I'm an environmentalist concerned about climate change, yet I have a travel-related business.
, ,
Mike