The Cost of Coffee: Seasonal Migration of the Ngäbe-Buglé in Costa Rica

Coffee in Costa Rica has played an important social and economic role. A cash crop in Costa Rica for several decades, coffee production used the country’s mineral-rich soil to support the national economy.

As increases in the global market weakened coffee-related income, Costa Rica, unable to compete with larger countries, directed efforts towards quality, rather than quantity. While no longer a major coffee producer of the world, Costa Rican coffee is world-renowned. 

Coffee prices in recent years have decreased dramatically, making it difficult for farmers to make a profit. To counter-balance this reduction in price and encourage production, many farm owners are supported by cooperatives and unions, alongside the government’s investments in fundamental rights through the provision of universal healthcare, strong public education system, and social security for all. These rights, however, are not always accessible to the most vulnerable—those who make up Costa Rica’s economic and agricultural systems.

In the Brunca region, farm owners hire the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé to complete the coffee harvest from August to January each year. The journey from the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca in Panama to Costa Rica is not only demanding but also leaves the population in a state of mixed documentation, limited resources, and host to human rights abuses.