If you’ve ever sipped on Venezuelan coffee, consider yourself lucky.
During the last several decades, Venzeula’s coffee industry has been in a steep decline. Once prized for its coffee, including varieties from the Maracaibos port and Caracas (named after the capital city) of the country’s eastern mountains, Venezuela now makes less than one percent of the world’s coffee even though it once rivaled Colombia in terms of production.
Venezuela’s coffee industry began to suffer after president Hugo Chávez mandated price controls over coffee in the early 2000s, nationalizing the country’s large roasters. Farmers began selling at a loss to the government. Many found it too unsustainable, turning their focus to other crops or getting out of the farming business altogether. But Trappist monks, best known for producing beer in Belgium, fall under the artisanal producer category, and are protected from the country’s nationalization of coffee. Trappist monasteries require several hours of work each day for the monk residents, and a monastery in Mérida has been leading the charge in the country’s artisan-roasted coffee category. Monks can roast and sell coffee, but at significantly higher prices than the government—selling for about $21 for a half pound, versus the country’s median price of about $1 per pound for the nationalized coffee beans.
The coffee situation is so poor in Venezuela that for the first time in history the country is expected to import more coffee this year than it produces. Blight is devastating what few growers remain. Some of the country’s remaining growers have even resorted to cutting the coffee with corn and other fillers to pad their profits. Current president Nicholas Maduro has banned all exports of Venezuelan coffee, forcing artisan crafters, like the Trappist monks, to compete with the low government prices, or even sell their beans illegally in Colombia.
The monks need help. “We went to the office of the Ministry of Agriculture in Mérida and told them our situation. They gave us the phone number of a depository that might have some green beans in Trujillo,” one of the monks told Vice. “We went to the factory and it was just a bunch of people bagging up B-grade beans from Nicaragua. We can’t sell that as gourmet coffee.” Venezuela’s Ministry of Agriculture recommended the monks look to the black market for illegal beans.
According to Vice, Trappist monks are now petitioning the Venezuelan government for better access to high quality Venezuelan grown beans in order to help preserve the nation’s artisanal coffee industry.
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