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Article

Herbert S. Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna

The 20th century represents a crucial period in Brazil’s economic history, when an agrarian, rural-dominated society became an urban, industrialized country with a complex financial sector and a large service sector. This economic transformation fueled by coffee exports led to profound demographic and social changes as millions of European and Asian immigrants were integrated into Brazilian society, followed by a massive shift of native-born migrants from the northeast to the dynamic southeast of Brazil, particularly for the state of São Paulo, which became the richest, most industrialized, and most populous state of the nation. The second half of the 20th century saw the creation of a modern industrial sector and the modernization of national agriculture, which in the 21st century made Brazil one of the most important producers of grain and animal protein in the world.

Article

Coffee has played complex and diverse roles in shaping livelihoods and landscapes in Latin America. This tropical understory tree has been profitably cultivated on large estates, on peasant smallholdings, and at many scales in between. Coffee exports have fueled the economies of many parts of Latin America. At first, coffee farmers cleared and burned tropical forests to make way for their farms and increase production. Early farms benefited from the humus accumulated over centuries. In Brazil, farmers treated these tropical soils as nonrenewable resources and abandoned their farms once the soils were exhausted. In smaller coffee farms along the Cordillera—from Peru up to Mexico—coffee farming was not quite as wasteful of forests and soils. In the mid-20th century, scientific innovation in coffee farming became more widespread, especially in established coffee zones that were struggling with decreasing soil fertility, increasing soil erosion, and new diseases and pests. In the 1970s, national and international organizations promoted large-scale programs to “renovate” coffee production. These programs sought to dramatically increase productivity on coffee farms by eliminating shade, cultivating high-yielding coffee cultivars, and using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Renovation brought tremendous gains in productivity over the short term, but at the cost of added economic and environmental vulnerability over the longer term. Since the end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, the global coffee market has become much more volatile. New coffee pioneer fronts are opening up in Brazil, Peru, and Honduras, while elsewhere coffee production is shrinking. NGOs and coffee farmers have promoted new forms of coffee production, especially Fair Trade and certified organic coffee. Still, most coffee farms in Latin America remain “conventional” farms, using a hybrid of modern and traditional tools. Economic and environmental sustainability remain elusive goals for many coffee farmers, and the threat is likely to increase as they grapple with the effects of climate change.

Article

Carlos Gabriel Guimarães

“The empire is coffee. And coffee is the valley.” This common phrase for a long time dominated the Brazilian imaginary about coffee, but it doesn’t translate the truth of the Brazilian economy of the 19th century. Coffee, the “black gold,” was Brazil’s main export product in the 19th century, and its main producing region was the Paraíba do Sul River Valley, which encompassed the provinces of São Paulo (high Paraíba) and Rio de Janeiro (middle and lower Paraíba). But the economy of the Brazilian empire cannot be reduced to coffee plantations. In other Brazilian regions, there were other primary products such as livestock products, resources extracted from the Amazon rainforest, and others. Minas Gerais, the largest Brazilian slave province, was not a producer region for export. In addition, there was a transformation in the "secondary" sector, with handicrafts, factories (sets of workshops), and manufacturing, both in the city and in the countryside, with slave and free labor. The political stability and economic growth of the mid-19th century made Brazil a region of foreign direct investment (FDI), mainly British, in sectors such as infrastructure (railways and ports), banks, insurance companies, and industry. In the last quarter of the 19th century, modern textile industries emerged, mainly in the Center-South, alongside the expansion of coffee in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro (Zona da Mata Mineira).

Article

The coffee economy was decisive for the construction of independent Brazil. By the middle of the 19th century, the country was responsible for about half of the coffee global supply; in 1900, that number had increased to about three-quarters of the world’s production. In the Brazilian monarchical period (1822–1889) the center of the activity was located in the valley of the Paraiba do Sul river. Brazilian coffee production from its very beginnings demonstrated an inherent spatial mobility and a great demand for workers. Before 1850, labor supply was guaranteed by the transatlantic slave trade; after that, by an internal slave trade. The two basic characteristics of the coffee economy created during the era of slavery (the intensive exploitation of workers through the extensive exploitation of natural resources) were maintained after the crisis and the abolition of the institution (1888), when the center of the coffee economy moved to the West of São Paulo. Now counting on a new arrangement of free labor (the colonato) and on the subsidized immigration of European peasants, the São Paulo coffee economy in the new republican regime (founded in 1889) underwent a huge productive leap. Overproduction and falling prices became the new problem. The coffee valorization policy adopted by the State of São Paulo after 1906 and then the federal government indicates the reconfiguration of the class relations experienced in the new republican era, which nevertheless kept many of the historical structures of the slave legacy intact.

Article

Given its historical and present roles in Latin American societies, coffee has generated substantial interest and information. Documents up to the mid-20th century have been partly digitized by researchers or generated in electronic format by inter/national organizations after 1960. Digitized information at first primarily focused on time series, censuses, and other quantitative data to address economic and technological aspects, and on other primary and secondary sources for social and political ones. Historical and cultural geography and environmental and rural history of coffee-producing areas have resorted to scanned or digital maps and geographical information systems (GIS), together with aerial photography after mid-century and satellite images since the 1990s, as well as datasets on climate and diseases, and scientific or technical reports. Digital collections of audio/video recordings, paintings, and photographs expanded the range of sources and topics. Digitizing research involves critical and creative source work; it is also more than digitizing sources. Creating and linking databases containing nominal information, together with archival sources and oral history, has allowed researchers to further integrate quantitative and qualitative methods. Software for network or content analysis, genealogy, and timelines has been used increasingly. Machine-learning, exploration of big data, and historical/spatial data mining are still incipient for Latin American coffee. Digital resources—combined with other sources and methods, guided by appropriate research questions in a theoretical/epistemological framework—are key for meaningful and systematic comparative discussions of national/local processes within a regional/global context. However, many digital resources are not publicly accessible or require payment; historical datasets should be public goods. Much work is yet required to digitize documents such as accounting of coffee estates, customs records, and associations’ minutes, as well as multiple secondary sources. Digitalizing historical research on coffee is a learning process and requires additional expertise; convergent and cross-disciplinary methodological approaches are needed to comprehensively address the economic, environmental, social, political, and cultural history of coffee.

Article

The Mexican economy consisted of activities at the international, national, and local levels, including the export of minerals and agricultural commodities, manufactures and agriculture for domestic markets, and production of goods for everyday consumption, respectively. The impact of a decade of civil wars between 1910 and 1920, which comprised the Mexican Revolution, on the economy varied according to which level, the time period, and the geographical region. The crucial aspects of the economy consisted of transportation and communications, banking, mining, export agriculture, and government policies and actions. The important factors were the intensity of the violence, inflation, and the availability of capital. Chronologically, there were several stages to the economic history of the Revolution. The first consisted of the years of the Madero rebellion and presidency, 1910–1913, when there was little damage done and growth continued. The second and worst period was during 1914, 1915, and 1916, when the counterrevolutionary Huerta regime battled the rebel Constitutionalists and after the latter’s victory the ensuing civil war between the divided winners. The third stage occurred with the defeat of the radical factions of the Revolution led by Zapata and Villa and the restoration of a semblance of order in 1917. The fourth included the establishment of the Sonoran dynasty of de la Huerta, Obregón, and Calles and the slow reconstruction of the economy.

Article

Japanese immigration to Brazil started in 1908 as a replacement for European immigrants to work for the state of São Paulo’s expanding coffee industry. It peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in the face of growing anti-Japanese sentiment in Brazil. The Japanese migrated to Brazil in mandatory family units and formed their own agricultural settlements once they competed their colono labor contracts and became independent farmers. Under Getúlio Vargas’s nationalistic policies, a 1934 immigration law severely limited the entry of the Japanese. Strict legal restrictions were also imposed on them during Vargas’s Estado Novo (1937–1945). Japanese immigration was eventually terminated in 1942. Then the number of Japanese immigrants reached 188,986. At the end of the war, the Japanese were sharply divided among themselves over the defeat of Japan, and Sindō Renmei’s attacks on other Japanese factions terrified the nation of Brazil. Having given up their hope of returning to their homeland, the Japanese and their descendants began to migrate on a large scale to the cities, especially São Paulo City. Japanese immigration resumed in 1953 and peaked in 1959–1960. A total of 53,657 postwar immigrants, including many single adult men, arrived in Brazil before 1993. By 1980, the majority of Japanese Brazilians had joined the urban middle class, and many were already mixed racially. In the mid-1980s, Japanese Brazilians’ “return” labor migrations to Japan began on a large scale, due to Brazil’s troubled national economy. More than 310,000 Brazilian citizens were residing in Japan in June 2008, when the centenary of Japanese immigration was widely celebrated in Brazil. But the story does not end there: the global recession soon forced unemployed Brazilians and their Japanese-born children to return to Brazil.

Article

For the greater part of the 19th and 20th centuries, Cuba, the largest island in the Antilles, figured as the principal exporter of sugar cane, a product that dominated the country’s agro-industry. In this way, Cuba became illustrative of the economic, social, political, and environmental impact of basing an economy on monoculture in order to supply foreign markets. This does not mean, however, that sugar cane was the only major crop being grown in the Cuban fields, as there was no dearth of different plants destined for foreign markets, such as tobacco and coffee, or for local markets, such as yucca, plantains, corn, sweet potatoes, and rice, not to mention a long if little-known livestock tradition. However, the dominance of agro-industry almost always eclipses agricultural and economic alternatives that could become potential competitors, despite the periodic adverse circumstances that affect consumers. But, in the 1990s, the production and exportation of sugar suffered an abrupt fall, creating a vacuum that allowed diversification of land use and that prompted a search for alternative agricultural models.

Article

The formation of El Salvador’s oligarchy was a long and complex process. Its beginning can be traced to 1848, when the first export of Salvadoran coffee took place. The first stage in its formation may be seen as ending in 1931, just before the army’s great “slaughter” of the rural population after the crisis of 1929. This long period is divided into two parts, with the year 1890 marking a change. Before that date, although El Salvador was beginning to feel the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the reorganization of the world markets, the country’s international politics were focused primarily on Central America. However, from 1890 on, the business sector expanded and penetrated deeply into the country based on the capital accumulated from the coffee industry. To that was added certain foreign participation, especially from the United States. This is why the period of 1848–1890 is considered the origin of the oligarchy, and 1890–1931 is seen as the formation of this social sector that has marked the history of the country up to the 21st century. A plausible definition of the term oligarchy is provided by Waldo Ansaldi: the combination of a social class defined by its function in the economic structure and the particular form of government it developed and practiced. The Salvadoran oligarchy was initially made up of the large landowners and traders whose economic power was based on their access to land and labor, acquired to a large degree at a very low price and often through non-commercial relationships. This minority experienced a transition toward a profile with increasingly capitalistic characteristics—that is, a more complex managing class with more and more wage labor, although in poor working conditions. In spite of this, it retained purely oligarchic features in the way it controlled political power and in its use of abundant, though not always wage-earning, labor, so that it can hardly be considered bourgeoisie. Coffee, including its cultivation, processing and export, was the principal (although not the only) basis of the enrichment of the oligarchy and of their political power. The development and consolidation of the oligarchical class was based on their control of the state and, as a result, also of their monetary, credit, and above all, fiscal policies. Representatives of the oligarchy came to control the government through electoral as well as military means, enabling them to reproduce and expand their power.

Article

The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.

Article

Mario Samper Kutschbach

Coffee production has been a significant economic activity in Central America since the 19th century, and it has played an important role in shaping social relations, politics, and culture in various ways over time, both within coffee-producing areas and in each country. Coffee continues to be a major export crop, although the region’s economy has diversified, and the prospects of coffee as a commodity and a way of life will influence the fortunes of many in the highland areas of the isthmus. The Central American coffee commodity chain, from planting, care of the coffee groves, and harvesting through transportation, processing, and storage to shipping, roasting, and distribution abroad and within each country, has evolved in response both to internal dynamics and to changes in the world market for coffee and consumer demand, international trading systems, capital flows, and marketing systems. The supply of credit and the exchange of knowledge and information on the market as well as technical expertise and the provision of inputs, genetic material, and equipment have helped shape and reshape this value chain. Farmers’ strategies and cooperative endeavors, as well as local processing, gathering, and storage facilities and financing and regulations, have adapted to changing trends and to market downturns, recoveries, and segmentation. Vertical and horizontal integration of the various links in this chain have also evolved, in ways that differ from one country to another. While historically there has been a trend toward concentration especially in processing and export, there has also been fragmentation and greater involvement of small- or medium-scale producers in cultivation and in primary processing in specific countries or areas. Certain pests and diseases, whose geographical distribution and severity have been related to agro-ecological conditions and practices, have also contributed to modifications in productive systems. Climate change has had increasingly severe short-term impacts on the frequency of extreme events and variability of rainfall and temperature, while warmer average temperatures have begun to affect the altitudinal range of coffee cultivation. There is definitely a future for specific types of Central American coffee, but not necessarily for all current areas, farms, and firms specializing in this tropical product.