Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Anger still brewing over coffee price slump

Published:Thursday | January 9, 2020 | 12:47 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Nadine Tait, a coffee picker in Penlyne Castle, St Thomas, says she has been harvesting the crop for 23 years and that it is her main source of income.
Nadine Tait, a coffee picker in Penlyne Castle, St Thomas, says she has been harvesting the crop for 23 years and that it is her main source of income.

In the farming community of Penlyne Castle, St Thomas, women are the main ones employed to pick coffee cherries from the trees that span the mountain community.

Nadine Tait has been picking coffee since she was 15 years old. Now 39, she is a mother of two and it remains her bread and butter.

“It bad ya now cause we not making any money at all,” she said, noting that she is paid a measly $1,000 per box.

Tait’s picking days start at 7 a.m., and she roves through the farm, picking tree by tree until four in the evening.

Before reaping season, she is hired by farmers to fertilise and prune their trees. Pruning involves removing the branches at the bottom of the trunk and cutting off diseased, dry, or dead branches.

Payment for fertilising and pruning is done by the acre, for which she is paid $2,000.

“Some a di time, I pick a four box for the day,” Tait said, boasting that she has mastered the art.

Kadian Edwards-Brown has her own coffee farm, and when she is not busy tending to it, she helps her in-laws to pick their crop.

“Di coffee market mash up bad bad,” she said, bemoaning the hardship of funding school-related expenses for children and coping with overheads. “By the time yuh pay workers, yuh nuh have nutten fi buy back chemical,” Edwards-Brown said as she picked the ripe cherries from the tree.

Among the many women picking coffee was André Jackson, who began harvesting coffee mere days ago.

“Mi did a do site work, but things get slow,” the 33-year-old said of his misfortune with construction labour. “Nuh money nuh deh pan coffee again ‘cause dem drop the price. Mi a try fi see if mi can pick two or three box today.”

In January 2018, Troy Brown was among the many affected farmers whose coffee farms were cut down over a land dispute.

Today, which is also being celebrated as Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Day, coincides with the day their coffee trees with ready-to-be-picked cherries were ruined.

“Mi clean it up back but still need help to care it ‘cause dem need fi fertilise back and suh fi come come up good. It slow me back a lot, but mi still haffi a gwaan pick likkle fi send mi children dem guh school ‘cause me have two weh guh high school and one don’t start yet,” Brown said.

When the news team visited Shane Brown’s 22-acre coffee farm intercropped with bananas, 12 men and women were busy gathering berries as they engaged in a conversation about the farm work programme.

All the pickers mentioned, with the exception of Nadine Tait, are employed by him.

He explained that part of his coping mechanism is hiring his father and mother as pickers.

“Jus fi show yuh how it rough, me haffi use family. Me can tell dem seh mi owe dem until the next picking, but when yuh bring stranger, yuh haffi pay dem Friday,” Brown said.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com