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Robusta coffee in Ecuador

From the October 2016 issue.

International agencies have come together to revive interest in Ecuador’s flagging coffee industry, achieving some exceptional results.

Judges at the Robusta Golden Cup

As the love of coffee spreads into new markets there is a growing need to find new or improved sources of supply for everybody’s favourite caffeinated bean.

But while the world’s growing appetite for coffee seems to know no limits, and changing climatic conditions place more pressure on producers in many traditional origins, there are some producer countries whose output is dipping due to a confluence of economic and environmental factors.

The South American nation of Ecuador is one such country.

While Ecuador once had a strong coffee sector – peaking in the mid-1980s with annual production figures of around 2 million 60-kilogram bags – recent years have seen a marked decline in Ecuador’s output.

“Although coffee world demand has not been reduced, production figures and exports in Ecuador have decreased in the last three years between 15 and 20 per cent,” says Jairo Andrade, who works with Ecuadorian coffee producers on behalf of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “I would say there are three factors that have hurt the sector’s development: low prices, low productivity per hectare and coffee leaf rust.”

Andrade says that declining productivity in Ecuador due to ageing crops, low density and lack of crop management have made it difficult for the country’s coffee farmers to compete on the international market.

“The soluble coffee industry in Ecuador pays US$0.75 per pound, and these prices are not enough to allow farmers to make investments in plantations. However, it is difficult for the industry to pay higher prices as exports of industrialised coffee are in bulk with modest margins,” Andrade says.

As a result, the domestic soluble coffee industry actually imports more than 1 million bags of Robusta coffee, mainly from Vietnam,  to transform it into soluble and freeze-dried coffee and re-export it.

In an effort to revive this flagging industry, CRS has initiated The Borderlands Project to promote the revival of Robusta coffee as a mechanism of import substitution and to prevent the outflow of currency.

As part of this project, CRS has worked for the past four years with 1600 families of small-scale coffee producers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. One important issue was to look for new markets that recognise the quality of the Amazon Robusta coffee and be able to pay better prices.

This in turn led to the establishment of a Robusta cupping competition, the Taza Dorada (Golden Cup), which was held in the city Lago Agrio, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, located in one of the main producing areas of Robusta coffee.

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