Sad news from UCIRI

I was about to submit a blog entry about our recent trip to Sumatra but when this letter came to my inbox last night I felt immediately it would have to take priority.

UCIRI Co-op, of Oaxaca Mexico, is one of our longest standing producer partners in Latin America and our co-founders, Jeff and Deb Moore have had a very close relationship with this organization since the beginnings of Just Us!. Some of you may be aware of our annual “Wisdom of the Mountains” tour and occasional coffee release and some of you may have actually visited them on one of those past tours.

Turns out Mexican Morning won’t have any Oaxacan coffee in it this year…

Climate change and consequently, coffee leaf rust, are wreaking havoc in much of Central America in recent times. Meanwhile our Canadian government and countless other rich nations debate how much responsibility we should shoulder and in some cases (our government comes to mind) seem to be avoiding the topic altogether. We continue to drive our cars two minutes down the road and complain about the price of fuel. Meanwhile, small-producers in Oaxaca just took a 70% pay cut from a salary that was already below the poverty line.

This year Just Us! would have purchased 38,000 lb of coffee from UCIRI. The New York Coffee Futures price was about $1.25/lb and the minimum Fair Trade (FLO) price was $1.90/lb when we made this contract for $2.80/lb last December. Now, because UCIRI is 70% short on the coffee this year, they will be losing 38,000 X $2.80 = $106,400 this year from Just Us! alone. That’s just one container of coffee. For a co-op that probably produces at least 50 containers of coffee a year, a 70% loss in production is like kissing 2.5 million dollars good bye!

It’s important to have a reality check on a regular basis. First-world problems can seem quite trivial when we look at the bigger picture. Here is a translation of the letter we received from UCIRI:

Dear Customer:

We would like to extend our warm greetings from the small producers of the mountains of UCIRI and from our Board of Directors newly elected in 2013 until 2016.

We wanted to inform you of a grave situation that we are going through. Climate change has been affecting us acutely each year over the past several years. Waves of cold weather in the summer followed by a drought in the winter (rainy season) has created a rust epidemic that has extended throughout Central America including Chiapas in Mexico and our coffee growing region in Oaxaca as well.

It was our hope that we could forget about these strange climatic events, but in November this disease left many of the coffee trees without leaves. Particularly in the higher altitudes the rust attacked and at the same time the cold weather came. Because of this, our production at UCIRI has been reduced by 70%. This also means a loss of 70% of our coffee income. Incomes will go from US$3.20 per day down to US$1 per day. Everything we have fought for over the past 30 years we are losing to climate change and rust.

On the other side of things we are unable to meet the demands of our customers for coffee this year. We regret this very much, but we regret even more the situation in which the peasant farmers now find themselves. We must pay for the environmental neglect of rich countries despite making every effort to mitigate climate change ourselves by practicing organic farming.

We are making every effort to plant at least one hectare per farm with coffee varieties resistant to rust and climate change. We will have to work hard over the next four years until we reach adequate production volumes once again. We are seeking support from government agencies. Despite their slow response we hope to receive a small emergency grant. Some of our members report that some of the trees are beginning to recover, but the older plants will have to be completely replaced.

With these challenges in mind we hope that you, our customer, can have some patience and understanding for our situation.

With Regards,

Board of Directors, UCIRI