Colombia coffee growers elect new leader amid production challenges

By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, April 27 (Reuters) - Colombia's coffee-growers' federation elected agricultural engineer German Alberto Bahamon as its new director on Thursday, as the group grapples with trying to increase output, reduce production costs and maintain its beans' international profile.

Colombia is the world's top producer of washed arabica, and though producers have recently benefited from higher prices and a weaker peso currency, wet weather caused by the La Nina phenomenon has lead to three consecutive annual decreases in production, as heavy rains delay flowering.

"What remains is for us to work jointly with the president and his cabinet," Bahamon told journalists after he was elected unanimously by 90 delegates.

President Gustavo Petro had called for the vote to be delayed so his incoming finance minister Ricardo Bonilla could participate, but the federation went ahead with the election.

Bahamon, a third-generation coffee-grower who has also worked at Apple, Sony and Kimberly Clark, said he would maintain tree replacement programs put in place by his predecessor and seek to increase profitability, including with technological innovations.

Output fell 12% to 11.1 million 60-kg bags in 2022, the lowest since 2013 and well below the federation's estimate of about 12 million bags for the year.

Year-on-year production has been sporadic so far in 2023 - staying level in January, rising in February and falling in March.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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