Colombia grants subsidies to striking coffee growers

Colombia has agreed to grant new subsidies to coffee growers who went on strike last month to demand more support after a 35 percent drop in international prices last year.

The government will provide an $80 subsidy per 125-kilogram (280-pound) load to all producers, regardless of size, and will act to keep prices between $266 and $388 per load, it said in a statement Thursday.

"Never in the history of coffee has a supplement of this nature been given," Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said, after attending a meeting with small and medium-scale farmers in the western city of Pereira.

On Saturday the government raised the subsidy for small farmers with less than 20 hectares from $33 to $63. Some 95 percent of coffee growers in Colombia are small-scale producers.

Thousands of coffee growers have staged protests across the country since February 25 demanding more government support for the sector, blocking some rural roads and holding signs reading "Just price" and "Long live the strike."

Growers have sought subsidized prices for inputs, debt relief and a prohibition against large-scale mining in coffee-growing areas. Santos has pushed mining as a key source of export revenues.

It was not immediately clear if the government's latest offer had met the protesters' demands.

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.

President Juan Manuel Santos has acknowledged difficulties in the sector but defended his government's record, saying that since coming to office in 2010 it had given growers millions of dollars worth of credits and subsidies.

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.