A recent article in Reuters describes how a sprawl of housing developments is devouring coffee farms and endangering the country's already overstressed ecosystems:
Only the size of Massachusetts, El Salvador has lost some 35,000 hectares of coffee farms, or 21 percent of the planted area, since its 2001 census, some to abandonment or other crops but much to urban sprawl.
In its first harvest after its civil war, El Salvador produced 3.3 million 60 kg bags of beans. This year's harvest is estimated at just 1.24 million bags, and yields are well below international standards.
Once the backbone of the economy, coffee growers have suffered from years of low international coffee prices, many are in debt and the decision to sell is easy.
"El Salvadoran producers have had a series of setbacks that have made us lose our links with agriculture," said Jeff Holman, president of coffee exporter Volcan, who blames an economic structure based on workers who live abroad.
"The housing boom is a boom based on the fact that there is no real income apart from what goes on outside the country," he said.
A quarter of El Salvador's 9 million citizens are estimated to live outside the country, primarily in the United States.
They sent home $3.3 billion in remittances last year, and much of it was used by families to make down payments on new homes, particularly in coffee-rich western El Salvador.
El Salvador has a density of 330 people per square kilometer, the highest of any country in the Americas and similar to Japan or Belgium. By comparison, nearby Costa Rica has 81 people per square kilometer.
For a country that is already severely deforested, the construction boom is a looming environmental disaster.
The bulk of El Salvador's forest cover comes from coffee farms, where aging bourbon-variety trees grow beneath a towering canopy of secondary forest. These "coffee forests" provide the little water table protection and migratory bird habitat that is left.
A report last year by Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future warned that El Salvador faces grave environmental challenges in the near future unless the destruction of coffee farms is halted.
This article should be read in conjunction with the efforts of the Saca government and real estate developers to entice more and more Salvadorans in the US to build second homes back in El Salvador.