Colombia coffee growers protest falling prices

President Juan Manuel Santos appealed for dialogue Monday to temper a protest strike by Colombian coffee growers angry over losses from falling coffee prices.

"The strike being called today is not only inconvenient and unnecessary, it's also unfair," Santos said in a televised speech, urging the growers to keep the protest peaceful and refrain from violence.

Since Sunday, thousands of growers from around Colombia have been mobilizing for a march to demand that the government increase subsidies and curb coffee imports.

"We are going to march all day in a peaceful manner until they listen to us," said Oscar Gutierrez, a spokesman for the growers.

Growers in Colombia, one of the world's top coffee producers, have been hard hit by a 35 percent drop in prices on the international market last year and a 10 percent revaluation of the peso, the national currency.

An estimated 560,000 families owe their livelihoods to coffee, for decades one of Colombia's biggest exports.

Santos acknowledged difficulties in the sector, but defended his government's record, saying that since coming to office in 2010 it had given growers billions of pesos worth of credits and subsidies.

Calling for dialogue, he proposed setting up a commission to discuss how to deal with the problems facing the industry.

Production fell 12 percent in 2011 and less than one percent last year, with total production at the close of the year at 462 metric tons.