Coffee Harvest Plunges as Workers Seek Life Elsewhere

SIGUATEPEQUE, Honduras (AFP-Jiji) — Nestled in the mountains of central Honduras, the El Encanto coffee farm is tackling this year’s harvest with half the pickers it needs.

In Costa Rica’s Central Valley, the Hersaca Tres Marias farm faces a similar dilemma. The seasonal laborers both farms rely on are among the thousands to have abandoned Central American shores in search of a better life elsewhere.

“Many of our coffee pickers now go to the United States, to other countries, for a lack of opportunities” at home, farmer Selvin Marquez, 34, told AFP in Siguatepeque, some 90 kilometers north of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

Coffee growers like Marquez are at their wit’s end, watching the fruit of their labors, and their incomes, shrivel up. Marquez planted five hectares of coffee that now needs harvesting. But he has only 20 of the 40 pickers he needs.

One of them is Jose Samuel Hernandez, 34, in the fields with his wife, Esly Mejia, 24, daughter Alexa, 2, and sister-in-law Gleny, 20.

Every hand counts, and even Alexa helps pick some of the low-hanging fruit while playing with a dusty teddy bear.

The family cuts 182 kilograms in eight hours and receives the equivalent of 10 cents per kilogram.

An “insufficient” income, said Hernandez, whose basic monthly expenses are the equivalent of $567 a month.

But he has little choice. A security guard for the rest of the year, a job at which he earns $429 per month, he took the day off to join his family coffee picking.

Hernandez said many of his friends have left Honduras. He, too, has thought of packing up. “But what will happen to my family?”

The authorities in Honduras estimate that 1,000 of its 9.5 million citizens leave every day with the hopes of making it to the United States for a chance at the “American dream.”