Puerto Rican Coffee Harvest Threatened
Puerto Rico announced Wednesday it will recruit public employees and prisoners to help complete the coffee harvest on the island, where a shortage of pickers threatens the survival of the crop.
The government will coordinate with farmers in the western highlands to assign employees to work between Sept. 9 and Dec. 17, said Ivette Thon, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department.
"A plan is being developed that will give each agency an opportunity to organize its volunteers," Thon said.
A group favoring independence for the U.S. Caribbean territory said it will participate alongside other volunteers.
"We will not allow what little remains of our agriculture to be ruined," the group named for 19th-century educator Eugenio Maria de Hostos said in a statement. "From now on we are going to defend this economic activity."
Volunteer drives have been organized in previous years to help bridge the labor gap, and last year some members of the governor's Cabinet and a small number of public employees participated to highlight the traditional importance of the industry.
Puerto Rico was among the world's leading coffee exporters in the 19th century, but increased competition hurt the business and today nearly all Puerto Rican coffee stays on the island.
The number of coffee pickers available for the remaining crop has dropped, meanwhile, as workers have quit to take less strenuous, better-paying jobs in other sectors.
Last week, Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila promised "the harvest will not be lost" and asked the Corrections Department to revive a program that allowed inmates to pick coffee beans last year.
The inmates who participated were paid the same as regular coffee pickers _ US$5 (4 euros) per 28-pound (13-kilogram) bucket of ripe beans _ and got 10 days taken off their sentences for each month of work.