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Academic news about Coffee in Central America

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Importance of coffee in Latin America

Coffee is considered a key product to the development of countries that produce it, it is one of the most commercialized products in the world, with an important global consumption. (Chiquillo et al. , 2013, p. 427)

Coffee crops require a territory with specific conditions regarding temperature, light and humidity to achieve optimal production, places such as the well-known coffee belt, a place that encompasses the countries that are between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. (Libertad, 2022).

The most suitable areas for its cultivation are Central and South America, especially Brazil, as well as Central and West Africa and parts of South and Southeast Asia.  Latin America is the main coffee producing region in the world, due to the work of small producers and its location and orography for a quality crop. Coffee production involves more than 14 million Latin Americans (Libertad, 2022). Specifically, Central America is one of the main coffee producers worldwide.

Coffee in Central America

For more than a century, Central American coffee farming has been one of the main economic export activities and a socioeconomic pillar of the countries that make it up. Coffee production is of paramount economic importance for the countries of the region, since it represents one of the main agricultural export crops, it is also a source of jobs in rural areas and, according to PROMECAFE data, approximately 5 million people depend directly on coffee production in the region (SICA).

According to figures from the information system on the Coffee Market in Central America, exports from the region between January and September 2016 reached 664,656 MT of coffee, equivalent to $2,169.4 million US dollars. In terms of exports by country, Honduras remains the main exporter of coffee in the region, with 283,100 MT placed abroad in the period in question, followed by Guatemala, with 167,672 MT, Nicaragua, with 112,935 MT, Costa Rica, with 70,512 MT, El Salvador, with 27,845 MT, and Panama, with 2,592 MT. (CentralAmericaData)

In the Central American region, according to data published by the International Coffee Organization (OIC), during the 2017/2018 season a production of 20.06 million quintals of  coffee (46 kg.) was obtained and according to the latest estimates for the 2018/2019 season, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua will produce 19.2 million quintals of coffee. Of this volume it is estimated that Honduras will produce 56%, Guatemala 25%, Nicaragua 15% and El Salvador 5%. Approximately 287,667 farmers participate in regional production, distributed as follows: 43% in Guatemala, 34% in Honduras, 15% in Nicaragua and 8% in El Salvador; these coffee growers carry out their activity in a total area of 884,671 hectares, of which Guatemala and Honduras cultivate 34% each, while between Nicaragua and El Salvador the rest is cultivated with 16 and 15% respectively. (FEWS NET Central America, 2008 , p.  2)

Coffee in El Salvador

Since its deployment  in  the mid-nineteenth century, coffee cultivation has played a fundamental role in the history of El Salvador, so much so that it promoted the development of the national economy, the construction of infrastructure, urban growth and sources of employment (Chiquillo et al. , 2013, p.418), becoming the center of the social and political life of the country.

From its beginnings, the destination of coffee in El Salvador has been export. This meant that the socio-economic dynamics within the country were influenced by the volatility of prices in the international market, creating an enormous dependence of external counties. The mono-export structure on which the expansion of coffee cultivation was based, focused on international demand and  trade relations, was based on the exploitation of workers, the concentration of land and inequality in the distribution of wealth generated, which produced large gaps in social inequality with serious disadvantages for workers and small owners (Chiquillo et al. , 2013, p.428).

Coffee continues to be one of the main bases of El Salvador’s economy: it generates large jobs in the agricultural sector and represents the main source of income for 20,000 small coffee growers (PROCAFE, 2010). 83% percent of the country’s farmers cultivate in areas of less than 7.5 hectares and occupy 21% of the national area cultivated with coffee. The coffee regions of the country are: Apaneca-Lamatepec, Santa Ana, Bálsamo, San Salvador, Chinchontepec, Tecapa-Chinameca and Cacahuatique. 

Environmental and socio-economic challenges in the future

Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying on the planet, where all regions are facing increasing changes. In addition, extreme events such as cyclones, floods and droughts are appearing more frequently and more broadly than in past decades, warns the Sixth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Due to its particular growing conditions, coffee will be one of the most vulnerable species to climate change (Libertad, 2022). Climatic fluctuations mean that coffee harvests are constantly at risk.

The climate crisis will affect the most vulnerable population in marginalized regions, especially small producers in Central America, who own small plantations and make less and less coffee and profits. Many producers see it as a solution to replace coffee with other crops or leave their farms to migrate to cities or abroad, which causes a decrease in production sources. (IDB ;  Libertad, 2022).

The imminent coffee crisis with socio-environmental consequences

Small coffee producers in Central America face unfavorable climatic and economic circumstances. The irregularity in rainfall in the region affected coffee production in recent years, generating negative yields in volume and quality of the harvest (vain, deformed, stained bean). These adverse conditions derived from climate change coupled with the impact of Roya, a fungus that attacks the coffee plant, increased production costs such as renewal of plantations, genetic improvement and greater agroecological management of coffee plantations. (FEWS NET Central America, 2008, p.  1)

During the last decades the fluctuations in the international price of coffee have not allowed producers to have stability. In the international market, the price of grain has fallen since 2012, generating a crisis for producers and unemployment.  According to a report by the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in 2018 the average indicative price was 98.17 US$/pound cents, which meant a decrease of 24.1% compared to September 2017, this price represented the lowest since October 2006. (FEWS NET Central America, 2008 , p. 1) This reality has changed the current year in which coffee grains experienced a increase of prices. 

For coffee bean producers, profits are minimal compared to that of exporters. This prevents the coffee grower from capitalizing and investing in the proper management of the farm, stagnating the socioeconomic development of the entire environment.  In social matters, the living conditions of thousands of people engaged in coffee farming and those who depend on temporary employment have been adversely affected. The most vulnerable populations of the Central American region subsist on temporary employment, they move every year from their areas of origin to the coffee-producing regions to work in the cutting and generate extra income to the harvest of subsistence crops.

The coffee growing areas of Central America are being greatly affected by pests and diseases as a result of climate change, consequently the livelihoods of small and medium-sized producers, as well as local workers and migrants from subsistence and under-subsistence agriculture regions are exposed, since their survival is closely linked to coffee farming. (FEWS NET Central America, 2008)

Other environmental impacts related to  coffee planting are: the change of coffee varieties; the intensification of coffee management through a greater use of agrochemicals and less shade; the conversion of coffee to other agricultural land uses; the expansion of coffee in forested areas; and the urbanization of coffee landscapes. (Wheel, 2021)

All the conditions of the international market and climate change make coffee producers the ones who bear the burden. (El Financiero, 2014).

Expectations in the reactivation of the coffee sector through responsible consumption

In El Salvador, the recovery of the coffee sector is continuing, including strategies aimed at the production of specialty coffees of the Bourbon, Geisha and Pacamaras varieties, in order to provide greater profits to farmers.

The coffee production system in the countries of the Central American region also generates important environmental benefits such as carbon fixation, the production of clean water or contributions to the conservation of biodiversity. (SICA) .

In the region, coffee growing areas coincide with ecologically important areas, such as conservation or protected forests, so they provide ecosystem services such as carbon capture and maintenance of the water cycle. Therefore, the sustainability of coffee plantations has positive impacts  on the very conservation of biodiversity.

The importance of coffee for environmental sustainability consists in the valuation of environmental services and the promotion of sustainable agriculture. However, this is made difficult by the persistence of the situation of inequality in the distribution of income in the rural coffee sector, caused by the low prices they receive for their product and the effects of global environmental change and pests such as Roya. Therefore, it is important to reactivate solidarity production chains through fair prices.

Hence  the importance of consuming  “specialty” coffee, which is grown under greater quality controls – including organic coffees (without the use of agrochemicals) – in sustainable areas.  In addition, they have the most important certifications, which in some way ensure a better use of the land and better treatment of the coffee grower; among these certifiers we find: Fair Trade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Micro Lot and Forest Management.


CentralAmericaData (2017).  “Central America: Coffee export figures” <> obtained from the website on 05/03/2022

Little Katherine;  Gaitán, Nelson and Vargas, Luis (2013).  “Description of the agroproductive-commercial dynamics of the coffee subsector in El Salvador and approximation to the analysis of equidistribution of the income generated, 1990-2011”, Revista Realidad No. 137, 2013, pp. 417-460.  Central American University “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA).

The Financier (2014). “How much does your cup of coffee cost? ” The Newsroom March 13, 2014

FEWS NET (2008).  COUNTRY/REGION.  Famine Early Warning System Network.  Special Report Centroamérica.

Libertad, Alejandra (2022). “The salvation of coffee would be in Colombia” Published on Servindi – Servicios de Comunicación Intercultural (

Rueda, Aleida (2021).  “How to produce coffee without risking the ecosystem that allows it to be grown?”, Published on Servindi – Intercultural Communication Services (

Central American  Integration System (SICA).  Situation of coffee in Central America, obtained from the website on 05/03/2022

Article: Ana Pohlenz
From: San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
PhD in Latinoamerican studies from UNAM. She research topics related with socio-environmental conflicts

Recommended Book: Historias y Poemas de una Lucha de Clases. Stories and Poems of a Class Struggle, Roque Dalton