Coffee: An Important Cash Crop

Coffee is a cash crop grown in ca. 80 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. For many of these countries, it is an important source of foreign currency, fetching producing countries on average US$20.2 billion annually between 2010 and 2015. Smallholder farmers play a major role in the coffee production chain, they are estimated to deliver between 80-90% of the coffee produced. In this way, coffee cultivation can play an important role in generating direct income, employment and output to rural areas.

The world coffee production has increased 20% since 2010 and should double or triple by 2050 to keep up with demand. However, the coffee cultivation is plagued by a number of problems. While the populations of both Africa and Latin America are very young, the average coffee farmer is above 60 and 50 years of age respectively. A reason often cited for this is that the coffee prices are very low and farmers have little power in the supply chain, leading to economic instability for coffee farmers. On top of this, it is expected that climate change will severely impact coffee production. Although some studies suggest that this impact might be limited, other studies suggest that coffee pests and diseases will rise, coffee yield and quality will go down and typical coffee production regions will become less suitable. New regions that will become suitable for coffee production are often still under forest.

“Coffee cultivation can play an important role in generating direct income, employment in and output to rural areas”

“Robusta coffee contributes to 38% of the world coffee production and its share increases with ca. 2% per year.”

Baker (2014) estimates that the rise in coffee production combined with the less fertile traditional coffee areas leads to more than 100 000 ha per year deforested for new coffee plantations. This deforestation is suggested to undermine any efforts made to make coffee production more sustainable.

Coffee production is based on two species, Coffea arabica (‘Arabica’) and Coffea canephora (‘Robusta’). These two contribute to respectively 62% and 38% of the world production. Although the exact impact of global change on coffee production is still under debate, severe impact on coffee yield and quality is expected if no adaptation takes place. In general, climatic suitability for Arabica is predicted to decrease in Meso America and East Africa, Robusta will compensate this decline, mainly in America, Indonesia and Africa. Consequently, the share of Robusta is increasing with ca. 2% each year. By 2030 Robusta will represent more than 50% of the world production. Nevertheless, most research and development is focusing on Arabica. Moreover, studies are usually performed in a limited number of countries, such as Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Uganda and India.

In Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi coffee is an important, if not the most important export product and source of foreign revenues. In the DRC, Robusta coffee was an important export product until the 1980’s. Congolese authorities and the World Bank have identified Robusta and Arabica coffee as an important cash crop and a tool for achieving the UN developmental goals in the DRC. 

In several provinces, the Congolese government and international organizations are investing in the rehabilitation of the coffee value chain and plantations. In addition, small farmers and private investors are interested in the relaunch of the Robusta cultivation in the Tshopo Province. Coffee cultivation in the DRC is, however, fraught with a complicated history (colonisation, decolonisation and instability) and with a lack of knowledge transfer between the actors. Nevertheless, the revival of the highland Arabica coffee in Eastern DRC the last decade illustrates that the relaunch of coffee can be successful and a tool for development. In a relatively short period various traders invested again in the region. However, a revival is only sustainable if local research infrastructure, capacity and genetic resources are available. The success of Robusta in Brazil, India, Vietnam and Uganda was always accompanied by the development of local capacity in research as adaptation to the local situation is essential. 

The proposed project responds to the lack of research and transfer of knowledge, limited collaboration between different actors and a request by local farmer associations, governmental bodies and entrepreneurs, asking for help to initiate a coffee chain in the Tshopo Province. The project will identify opportunities and pitfalls of the relaunch of the coffee chain in the region, straighten local capacities and provide a baseline for the development of coffee research locally. 

“The project will identify opportunities and pitfalls of the relaunch of the coffee chain in the Tshopo region”

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