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November 29, 2011

Africa's coffee output to rise by a third by 2015

by Beatrice Gachenge

Africa's coffee output could leap by a third within the next five years as farmers scramble to replace mature trees with disease-resistant seeds to cash in on soaring global prices for the beans, a senior industry official said.

Poor prices, drought, disease and political instability in major producers such as Ivory Coast have led to neglect of coffee farms, while some farmers ditched the commodity in favour of planting staple foods such as maize.

But Denis Seudieu, chief economist at the International Coffee Organisation, said that countries like Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon and Tanzania have come up with hardier seedlings that produce higher yields, and are reaching out to new markets.

"If major producing countries aggressively implement and rehabilitate the coffee sector by supporting and trickling benefits to farmers, we are optimistic in five years production will increase by 2-5 million bags," Seudieu said on the sidelines of a coffee conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi.

Seudieu said millions of African farmers stopped growing coffee in earnest between 1980 to 1990 when governments introduced new intermediaries in trading who ate into farmers' incomes, as in the central African nation of Cameroon.

Data from the Inter-Africa Coffee Organisation (IACO) showed Africa's production of the beans has stagnated at 16 million bags of 60 kg each in the last five years, but rose to 18 million bags last year, a 13 percent share in the global market.

In 1980, Africa's global market share stood at 30 percent, and plans are under way to try to restore the lost ground.

Ravaged by years of civil war, Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), once the fifth largest global coffee producer, has fallen to 11th, but political stability has been restored and farmers are upbeat. New seedlings that will yield coffee beans within two years could turn around their fortunes.

"A country like Cote d'Ivoire used to be a big producer but the political crisis emphasised the already difficult situation in terms of low productivity. It was the poor price at first, then the political situation aggravated it," Seudieu said.

The west African country used to produce 4 million-5 million bags in the 1980s but annual output is now less than half that amount, Seudieu said.

In east Africa, Kenya hopes to pay its farmers more by removing middlemen and letting them sell directly to foreign buyers, Josefa Sacko, the secretary general of IACO said.

Kenya, a relatively small producer of specialty high quality coffee beans sought after for blending with those from other countries, is trying to reverse a trend where coffee output has fallen because farms have been taken up by property developers to cash in on the booming real estate sector.

A new disease-resistant coffee variety named Batian developed by researchers is expected to boost output sharply, and is in demand throughout the east and central Africa region.

Kenyan farmers looking to benefit from high international prices have expressed interest in growing coffee in areas that have previously not produced it, researchers said.

Uganda, Africa's second largest producer after Ethiopia, has widened distribution of varieties resistant to coffee wilt disease to farmers in a country that produced 3.15 million bags in 2010/2011, up from 2.7 million in 2009/2010.

The country is seen as a model for the rest of the continent, because output has been rising gradually.


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