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Colombia coffee growers, other farmers plan protest on April 28

Source: Reuters - Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:08 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Peter Murphy

BOGOTA, April 16 (Reuters) - Colombian growers of coffee and other crops plan to stage protests from April 28 to demand that the government implement promised farming reforms, one of the organizers said on Wednesday, but the action will not disrupt the coffee harvest.

Producers of coffee, but also rice, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, sugarcane and cocoa say the government has failed to implement reforms agreed after farmer protests in August last year that turned violent and blocked key highways for days.

"The stoppage is so that the government does what has already been agreed to," Victor Correa, spokesman for the Dignidad Cafetera coffee protest movement, told Reuters after a meeting with representatives of producers of other crops.

"We don't plan to interrupt harvesting of coffee. We need it after so many years of crisis," Correa said.

He said the protests might last just a day or two, but possibly longer, and would involve marches, camps and possibly road blocks.

The protests would also likely be smaller than those last August, which turned violent when students and other groups hijacked the demonstration.

Colombian farmers say the government has failed to intervene to lower fertilizer prices, and has not implemented the partial debt relief they say they were promised. In the coffee sector, growers want the government to prohibit the import of cheaper produce from Ecuador and Peru to boost the price of local beans.

The Agriculture Ministry has produced a detailed spreadsheet with a breakdown of each of the roughly 180 points agreed with producers and what has been achieved so far, with most labeled either "complete" or "in progress." The ministry argues that some reforms can only be implemented in the long term.

WEEKS UNTIL ELECTIONS

The stoppage will come at an awkward time for President Juan Manuel Santos, who is up for re-election a few weeks later, on May 25, but Correa denied the protests were timed to gain leverage because of the imminent vote.

But in a radio interview on Wednesday, Santos said the aim of the protest was to damage his electoral campaign.

"There are no objective reasons to go to a stoppage at this point," he said, pointing out that the government has been in continual dialogue with the farming sector.

Correa said farmers were making no new demands, but wanted points that were agreed upon last August to be implemented. With a poor road network and almost no rail, transport costs weigh heavily on farmers' earnings in Colombia, limiting profit for many.

Correa said the rise in coffee prices since last year may also mean fewer farmers are motivated to turn out, but the sector would press its demands nonetheless to improve conditions for growers whenever prices fall.

In protests in August and also February last year, coffee growers continued harvesting, but were often unable to sell their crops during the demonstrations. Exports recovered again weeks later when the coffee was delivered to traders.

Colombia has been paying a subsidy of around $75 to growers since October 2012, but it was suspended in late February when a surge in international arabica prices took the local price above a 700,000 ($360) peso-per-125 kg ceiling.

($1 = 1932.1000 Colombian Pesos) (Reporting by Peter Murphy. Editing by Andre Grenon.)

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