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Two women pick coffee beans in Central America

Los Cortadores: The Unsung Heroes of the Coffee Industry


Coffee farm owners who work the land to grow the beans we need to make coffee are sometimes referred to as the backbone of the coffee industry for their commitment and enthusiasm. Yet the unsung heroes of the coffee industry—the coffee pickers and farm labor workers—are often overlooked. These dedicated individuals and their families get up before dawn, work long hours in difficult conditions, and make numerous sacrifices to ensure that you can enjoy your beloved morning brew each day.

Coffee workers in Central America carrying heavy sacks on their backs

Imagine, you wake up, a 30 year old a woman, and you drag yourself out of bed at three in the morning to prepare breakfast for your family. A vital meal as the long journey to the coffee farm awaits you and the rest of your family. Together, you traverse dangerous terrain, walking hours, perhaps intermittently hopping on and off overcrowded trucks to reach your destination. 

You've been making the same journey since you were 15 and you can expect to be doing so until you're in your sixties or even seventies.

Once there, the arduous and hazardous task of coffee cherry picking commences. All the while caring for your two small children, who accompany you each day because daycare is too expensive or simply nonexistent and staying at home is not something your husband and you can afford.

Harvest Season: Reaping Little Reward

Come rain or shine, you keep at it, transporting the coffee over long distances while lugging sacks that might weigh more than 150 pounds, enduring the mental and physical toll of harvesting coffee because you know it's your best chance to make more money than what you would at any other time of year. You as a reader might think they’re handsomely compensated for their efforts, think again. The sad truth is that many of these employees are underappreciated and underpaid for their efforts, usually because the farmers themselves are just as poorly compensated or not properly recognized for their risk and effort year in, year out.       

The majority of coffee pickers and farm laborers see the majority of their hard-earned income evaporate shortly after the harvest season has ended. Without financial help and support, they are unable to make their money stretch throughout the entire year. Even though many coffee farms claim to adhere to fair labor practices and safety regulations, this is not always the case. For example, in many workplaces, protective equipment is only made available during inspections. Whereas, behind the scenes, workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals daily, without protective gear.    

More like this: Conventional coffee farming is poisoning local communities    

A group of 13 coffee farmers wave in front of a backdrop of verdant hills


Empowering Coffee Pickers and Farm Workers   

It is vital that we prioritize the welfare of coffee pickers and farm workers. This requires not only acknowledging the significance of the job they do, but also putting into action programs and activities that are tailored to meet the particular difficulties and requirements of the community in question.

These solutions need not be complex in nature. For instance, if businesses invested in providing daycare solutions for coffee workers, they could focus on the task at hand without the added concern for their child’s safety. Not only this, but family life would be more stable and secure for everyone involved. 

Introducing farm-based education and training programs would equip workers with the knowledge and abilities to help them live better and work more efficiently. Training in sustainable agricultural practices would also lessen the toll on the environment that coffee cultivation takes, as well as protect the livelihoods of those who work in the industry.

Additionally, we should be cultivating direct trade links between coffee roasters and suppliers. The coffee business can secure a more equitable distribution of earnings by eliminating intermediaries and strengthening bonds, leading to fairer compensation and better working conditions for coffee pickers and farm laborers.

The Importance of Tackling Systemic Injustice

Transparency and traceability, which help customers follow the path their coffee takes from farm to cup, are essential to this goal. To truly promote ethical practices, we must expose the abysmal working conditions, meager wages, and mistreatment of coffee pickers and farm workers. However, it is essential to understand that farmers are often unable to improve conditions or provide better pay due to their own financial constraints. This is why we need to address the problem at each level: from consumers and roasters, all the way to the coffee farmers and their workers.

Current certification systems are failing. Some have even been known to resort to exploitative measures, such as having illiterate workers sign papers with their fingerprint, perpetuating the illusion of fairness. We must demand innovative and effective solutions that bring about tangible, lasting improvements in the lives of the hardworking individuals who are the backbone of the coffee industry. In doing so, we can create a just and equitable system that supports everyone involved, from coffee farmers and their workers to the consumers who quite literally enjoy the fruits of their labor.

What Can You Do As A Consumer?

Fostering a sense of community within the coffee industry can help break down barriers and encourage collaboration between farmers, roasters, and consumers. As a consumer of Mayorga coffee, you play a crucial role in driving positive change within the industry. Our aim is to protect the health and well-being of our farmers, and provide you with clean, unadulterated foods. Operating sustainably isn't a marketing concept. It's a conscientious decision we must make daily. And we invite you to take that decision along with us.

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