Hurricanes and Covid-19 rattle the coffee trade in Honduras

. Jan 16, 2021
Coffee plantation in the Honduran highlands. Photo: Marek Poplawski/Shutterstock Coffee plantation in the Honduran highlands. Photo: Marek Poplawski/Shutterstock

Located slap-bang in the middle of Central America, Honduras has long suffered from an image problem. Gang violence, political instability, corruption, and crippling poverty rates have long plagued the country of 9.5 million inhabitants. But what is less known is that Honduras is the largest coffee producer in Mesoamerica, the third-largest in the Americas, and among the world’s top five.

Fifteen of Honduras’ 18 departments are home to large coffee plantations, with more than 105,000 farmers working with the crop. Production hit a peak at the end of 2019.

In the first six months of the 2019-2020 harvest, Honduras&#8217; coffee exports hit a total of USD 468 million, 10 percent more than the previous year.</p> <p>However, this profitable and job-creating industry is in jeopardy, largely thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. While Honduras has been far from the most-affected country in the region — with only the 13th highest mortality rate per capita in the Americas — restrictions put in place in response to the over 129,000 cases and 3,294 deaths have taken their toll on coffee production.</p> <p>Official figures from the Honduran Secretary of State back in September forecast unemployment rising to at least 13 percent by the end of the pandemic. Around 200,000 Hondurans lost their jobs in 2020.</p> <p>Amid this employment crisis, the coffee industry is in drastic need of labor. It is hard to measure exactly how many people working directly or indirectly in the coffee trade lost their jobs in 2020, as <a href=",y%20la%20industria%20(11%20%25).">19 percent of the agricultural sector in Honduras is informal</a>, according to the World Bank. Furthermore, the industry is often boosted by unregistered immigrants coming from neighboring countries.</p> <p>When looking at the registered sector in isolation, officials from the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) say that low production in 2020 has created the need for <a href="">350,000 new hires</a> to meet demand. The association signed an agreement with the National Immigration Institute in order to rectify the legal status of migrant workers seeking jobs on coffee farms.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-hierarchy" data-src="visualisation/4983548"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Hurricanes put dirty water in Honduras&#8217; coffee</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="667" src="" alt="Tegucigalpa, in Honduras, as Eta Storm approaches. Photo: Marco Vasquez/Shutterstock" class="wp-image-55141" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Tegucigalpa, in Honduras, as Eta Storm approaches. Photo: Marco Vasquez/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>If the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic wsa not enough to drive Honduran coffee producers up the wall, 2020 was also the year of the <a href="">most severe hurricane season in the history</a> of Central America and the Caribbean. The socioeconomic fallout from the storms was huge, and over 15 percent of coffee farm access roads were affected by heavy rains.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Honduran Coffee Exporters Association says that the current harvest lost at least 120,000 60 kilogram sacks of coffee due to Hurricane Iota in November. Losses could reach 500,000 if repairs and new hires do not happen soon.</p> <p>Initial estimates had the 2020-21 harvest coming in at 6.2 million sacks of coffee, but this figure now seems impossible.</p> <p>Regardless, the sector has chosen optimism. On January 12, Berenice Molina, director of the Honduran Health Ministry&#8217;s Expanded Program, said the country will have access to 9.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines by way of the COVAX Facility. This should assure immunization for up to 81 percent of the population, with the campaign set to begin between January and February.&nbsp;</p> <p>And with the end of the hurricane season and the relative control over the coronavirus pandemic, expectations for the coffee industry&#8217;s recovery are buoyant.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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