Our most recent trip to El Salvador took us to the Ahuachapán department, located two hours west of San Salvador, where we work with the Menendez family. The Menendezes have a storied legacy with coffee; their estates have been owned and operated by their family for decades, and for the last twenty years, Don Miguel Menendez has been growing, milling and drying some of the best coffee in Latin America.
The past two years have been extremely challenging for coffee farmers in El Salvador. Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) – a parasitic fungus that attacks coffee shrubs, leaving them unable to mature and yield coffee cherries – hit Central American coffee producers hard. In El Salvador, it devastated coffee production, reducing the country’s total coffee output by 200 million pounds between 2013 and 2014. As we toured one of the country’s largest coffee-growing regions, we witnessed field after field of dead coffee trees.
The economic and social impact of CLR has been wide-reaching. Coffee represents a significant portion of El Salvador’s exports and is the source of livelihood for nearly 20,000 small-scale farmers, not to mention thousands of temporary harvest workers who depend on coffee picking as their principal source of income for a portion of the year. Since the wake of CLR in El Salvador, payouts to temporary workers have dropped from $21 million to $8 million.
As many of their neighbors’ coffee farms are dying, the Menendez family are fighting hard to keep their production up, incorporating practices such as
intensified pruning, strategic use of fungicides, and coffee farm renovation (planting new trees alongside older trees; older trees are more sus
ceptible to CLR), to ward off the disease. Though full recovery is a slow process, Farmer Brothers is committed to supporting the Menendezes as they work their way back up to pre-CLR levels. Despite the difficult times, we are looking forward to some great El Salvadorans this year.