Peru’s Efforts to Boost Coffee Sector Stifled by High Costs, Low Prices

Peruvian coffee arabica organic

“Coffee farmers throughout Peru are weighing the relatively high costs of replanting old or diseased trees against low international prices. Such market forces are threatening the country’s already economically delicate coffee sector, according to the latest annual report from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service(FAS).

Peru remains the world’s leading exporter of organic Arabica coffee, with an estimated 90,000 certified hectares in addition to non-certified farms, which in many cases are following organic practices out of necessity due to lack of access to chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.

According to the FAS report, many smallholder coffee farms throughout Peru have not fully recovered financially from the leaf rust outbreak that peaked in the country in the market year 2013/14, affecting as much as 50% of the country’s total crop production.

While Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture has led an ambitious rust recovery and replanting program in the years since, and the federal government has initiated a sweeping marketing initiative for coffee, total coffee-farmed land in the country is estimated to be 390,000 hectares in 2019, a negligible increase compared to last year. The report further estimates that countrywide production volumes and export volumes will see slight increases over last year’s levels.”

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Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil

According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, American exports could reap more than $1.2 billion a year in sales if the U.S. ends its trade restrictions against Cuba.  Cuba imports 60 percent to 80 percent of its food.  New trade lines would also provide a supply of sugar, coffee and tropical produce to America.

An alliance of organic industry leaders, chefs and investors travelled to Cuba this past May, with a mission of persuading the Cubans to protect and extend the small-scale, organic practices that have become a part of their lives.  These practices came into play during the rule of President Fidel Castro, when the communist Soviet Bloc fell apart, and Cuba was unable to trade for agricultural equipment, chemicals and gasoline.  Farmers were forced to replace tractors with oxen, and cooperative farms emerged.

The country has almost 400,000 urban farms, among them 10,000 small organic ones.  Organic supporters would like Cuba to continue employing a sustainable agriculture that rejects chemicals and genetic modification.  The incentive is that the American market is willing to pay a premium for organic produce.  Organic sales in the U.S. grew three times as fast as the overall food market last year.

Efforts to lift trade sanctions between the U.S. and Cuba are moving slowly, due in large part to the upcoming Presidential election.  In the meantime, Cuban officials are being encouraged to build on the country’s extensive research and the cultural desire for local food.

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Dig Inn CEO Takes Disruption To New Heights

Dig Inn CEO

For Adam Eskin, CEO of Dig Inn, being disruptive meant severing ties with standard supply chains and developing relationships with local farmers in order to source ingredients for his New York City-based concept. The company has even helped farmers buy land and equipment and is now looking into buying farmland.

“Broken,” is how Eskin described today’s food system, which was set up decades ago to deliver food to masses of people as quickly as possible. That goal has led to obesity and a failing agriculture system, which inspired him to launch Dig Inn, a concept serving only from-scratch and seasonal food. Menu items include: flame-grilled wild salmon, Sicilian cauliflower, roasted kale, five-spice meatballs made with chicken or pork and free-range roasted turkey from Koch’s Turkey Farm in Tamaqua, Pennslyvania.

Dig Inn’s seasonal and innovative menu means talented chefs must always be in the kitchen, and Eskin admitted that finding NYC chefs who want to work in a fast casual setting can be challenging. Eskin found a solution by developing his own in-house culinary school, where he transforms employees into chefs. In an effort to inspire and help his chefs grow, Eskin partners with some of New York’s high-end restaurants, including Danielle, to provide them with the opportunities to work in their kitchens. It’s a win, win; young chefs study under pros and then put new skills to use at Dig Inn.

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Quinoa and California; an Unexpected Love Story

Quinoa–you’ve heard it, seen it, tasted it in nearly everything over the past few years.  The ancient grain, indigenous to the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chili, has grown wildly in popularity due to its complete-protein profile.

However, the seed itself hasn’t grown as wildly.  The pseudocereal is can be difficult to cultivate, and the surge in consumption had recently put a strain on farmers south of the equator.  Between the increasing price of quinoa and the increasing exports, consumers began to express concerns for the origin of their new favorite super food.

Meanwhile, in small, hot, below-sea-level area of the Imperial Valley in California, the Lundberg family has been able to grow the seed with great success.  In 2014, the family farm started with just 40 acres in Northern California.  Now, Lundberg has 800 acres planted and is looking at expanding this dry, forsaken patch in Brawley to 500 acres of what might be the next brown rice.

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