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Organic coffee: Why Latin America's farmers are abandoning it

Latin America produces an estimated 75 percent of the world's organic coffee. But the economic benefits many small farmers were promised if they converted to organic haven't materialized.

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Pretty, but costly: A Honduran farmer displays freshly picked organic coffee beans.

Reuters

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Some 450,000 pounds of organic coffee sit in a warehouse here, stacked neatly in 132-lb. bags. It’s some of the world’s best coffee, but Gerardo De Leon can’t sell it.

“This is very high quality and it’s organic. But ... the roasters don’t want to pay extra these days,” says the manager of FEDECOCAGUA, Guatemala’s largest growers’ cooperative, which represents 20,000 farmers.

Mr. De Leon is asking $2 per pound for the green (unroasted) coffee, about 50 cents more than the going price. But he says he’ll soon have to sell it as conventionally grown coffee, which sells for less.

That’s why many Mesoamerican farmers here are starting to give up on organic coffee: The premium price that it used to fetch is disappearing.

From Mexico to Costa Rica, at least 10 percent of growers have defected in the past three years, estimates the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education in Costa Rica (CATIE). Researchers say that each year, about 75 percent of the world’s organic coffee comes from Latin America.

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