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By Manuel Rueda
Antioquia, Colombia

image copyrightSimon Echavarria

image captionGloria Piedrahita is new to coffee picking – she started after her store went broke

For almost four decades the Santa Isabel estate has been growing coffee and roasting it on its premises with machines powered by water and coal.

But production could fall this year at the massive farm, which covers a steep mountain that is almost entirely carpeted with coffee bushes.

Coffee pickers have become harder to hire amid the coronavirus pandemic. Low prices for beans mean there is not much money to lure more workers by offering higher wages.

“If we cannot get more workers we could lose some of our crop,” says Ángel García, the farm’s manager. “The beans will fall and rot on the ground,” he explained, as a crew of about 50 workers made their way up a slope covered in 6ft-tall (1.8m) bushes.

image copyrightSimon Echavarria
image captionÁngel García is one of the managers at Santa Isabel, a farm with 900,000 coffee bushes

Santa Isabel – which has 900,000 coffee bushes – is one of many farms in the Colombian province of Antioquia that is struggling with labour shortages this year.

The province, home to the city of Medellín, needs around 32,000 coffee pickers from other parts of the country each year to collect its harvest, which takes place between September and December.

But it currently has a deficit of 7,000 coffee pickers, according to Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers.

Similar labour shortages affected coffee farms in Costa Rica earlier this year.

More risk

Workers at the Santa Isabel farm say that fewer people are showing up because the job has become riskier.

“This place has workers that come from many different places,” said Luis Giraldo, a 40-year-old coffee picker.

image copyrightSimon Echavarria
image captionLuis Giraldo says he can collect around 100kg of beans per day, which pays around $15

“Even if you try to avoid contact with others, you really can’t,” he says, pointing to a group of a dozen workers who sit next to each other, chatting after having breakfast. None of them wore facemasks.

Mr Giraldo’s wife, Gloria Piedrahita, says she is happy to have a job. Her small clothing store in Medellín went broke earlier this year. But she also acknowledges there was a risk of getting infected with coronavirus.

“We have to sleep in dormitories here,” she explained. “And not all of the workers are careful.”

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To prevent outbreaks and make the job safer for coffee pickers, farms in Colombia have taken bio-security measures that include adding hand-washing stations and temperature checks.

Some of the larger farms have also expanded their dormitories or added tents so that their workers are more spaced out, with their bunk beds now placed two metres apart.

image copyrightSimon Echavarria
image captionWorkers do not always practice social distancing or wear facemasks during their breaks

But the measures have not attracted as many workers as farmers had hoped for, even though the unemployment rate in Colombia is about 50% higher than it was a year ago.

Empty trucks

Mr García says that his farm usually hires 500 temporary workers to harvest its coffee bushes in November, when beans are ready to be picked. This year he has only been able to get 200.

Cold and rainy weather has slowed down the pace at which coffee beans mature in many parts of Colombia this year. That has helped Santa Isabel to stave off major losses. But the farm is still actively recruiting people, before its beans fall to the ground.

“We are putting ads on the radio, we are sending out a truck into town with a megaphone on it, offering to bring workers to the farm,” Mr García explains. “The truck often comes back empty.”

José Álvaro Jaramillo, the Antioquia director for Colombia’s Coffee Growers Federation, says the labour shortages have been happening for several years now – though to a lesser extent – as better paying industries like highway construction and the illegal coca crop lure rural workers away from the coffee fields.

Physically demanding and little security

Coffee pickers in Colombia are paid about $0.15 (£0.11) for every kilogram of beans they collect. On a good day an experienced coffee picker can make around $30 a day, gathering 200kg of beans.

image copyrightSimon Echavarria
image captionIn a regular year, the farm hires around 500 temporary workers to do the physically demanding work

It is three times as much money as what a worker on the national minimum wage makes. But the job is physically demanding and does not provide a fixed income or health insurance.

Fernando Morales de La Cruz, an expert on the coffee industry who directs the Café for Change Initiative, says that labour shortages will continue to be a problem until “the business model on which the global coffee industry operates is changed”.

Mr Morales de la Cruz points out that coffee currently sells for around $2.40/kg in global markets, or less than what it was selling for in 1983, when coffee-growing nations stopped imposing export quotas.

He says that a few companies – including Starbucks and Nestle – are purchasing most of the coffee in the world and keeping prices low thanks to their bargaining power.

For wages to improve significantly in the industry, wholesale prices for coffee beans would have to hover around $12/kg, Mr Morales de la Cruz, who is also a human rights activist, says. He argues that this big hike in prices could be covered, partly, by charging consumers an additional 10 cents for every cup of coffee bought at cafes or restaurants.

‘We can’t let the coronavirus scare us’

Still even as growers struggle with low prices for their coffee, there are people willing to work for the modest wages on offer.

image copyrightSimon Echavarria
image captionRafael Avendaño needs the work to send money home to Venezuela

At the Santa Isabel farm many of the coffee pickers who turned out this year are Venezuelan migrants, who need to send money to relatives at home. In Venezuela, the monthly minimum wage is currently worth around $1.

“We can’t let the coronavirus scare us” said Rafael Avendaño, a 25-year-old Venezuelan worker who has been at the farm for a month.

He had been living on Colombia’s Caribbean coast for three years working as a motorcycle taxi driver, but the pandemic put him out of business. “I’m more afraid of rolling down one of these slopes than of the pandemic” he joked.

“For people like us the priority is to work.”

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media captionThe fears of India’s tea workers in lockdown

Related Topics

  • Colombia

  • Global trade
  • Coffee production

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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