What central American coffee producers can learn from Brazil
At Sintercafé, which takes place in Costa Rica annually, the focus is heavily on green coffee, producers and sustainability. This year’s edition – 13-15 November in Playa Herradura, CR – was no different. Many presentations discussed sustainability and coffee prices, as well as the impact on producers and the immediate need to resolve the situation. Several presenters noted the importance of growing coffee consumption globally as production has been exceeding it.
While most presenters who touched upon the coffee price crisis did not offer solutions, Carlos Brando, partner, P&A Marketing International, and the chairman of the Global Coffee Platform, emphasised the importance of producing regions such as South and Central America to grow consumption and creating a more efficient supply to help offset the low coffee prices.
He explored Brazil’s impressive coffee production and growing consumption, and how Central American producers should look to Brazil as an example of how to improve their production. Brando noted that despite Brazil’s struggling economy, its coffee industry continues to grow—50% production growth in 10 years with no expansion of growing areas. Brazil has been able to achieve this through:
- New techniques and technologies that drive productivity
- Advanced agronomical research applied to coffee
- Organised production infrastructure and enabling environment
- 2 million bags exported in 2018
- Exports of differentiated coffees continue to grow (9 million bags)
He added that coffee consumption in Brazil is still growing with 21 million bags consumed in 2018.
Brando attributed Brazil’s strong coffee industry to:
- Its productivity
- Mechanisation methods: cultivation and harvesting
- Efficient enabling environment: more than 80% of FOB export price reaches growers
- Large domestic consumption which is still growing above 3 to 4% per year
- Larger small growers: 86% of Brazilian growers are under 20 hectares and they account for 52% of total production
- Rural/urban diversification
He shared that Brazil also has a number of methods and techniques in play to mitigate climate change. “More competitive growers have better conditions to adapt in Brazil,” he said, noting the technology, organisation and finance that are available.
Brando said that there are opportunities for Central America to help offset low coffee prices by improving and increasing production, and to look at what Brazil is doing, adapt as necessary and implement. He explained that producers in Central America need to:
- Increase productivity
- Harvest more efficiently
- Employ better processing through efficiency, control, microlots, and differentiated coffees
- Bring small growers together
- Increase domestic consumption
He stressed the importance of “understanding and adapting” to create a more efficient supply chain. Brando also suggested that coffee producers in Central America examine the differing harvesting options available to reduce costs such as selective picking, stripping, hand-held harvesters and self-propelled mechanical harvesters. He also outlined the various processing methods –washed, pulped naturals/honeys, washed unripe and over ripe, naturals – as options for producers to experiment and -differentiate, as well as new forms of fermentation and suitable post harvesting technology that are available.
Brando did not discount the challenges for micro and small growers including:
- Diseconomies of scale
- Increasing ambitions and aspirations (of younger generations off the farms)
- Growing costs
- Technology: access, costs and role
- Aggregation (coffee, growers, central milling, cooperative and associations, etc.)
But he did highlight success stories (in terms of case studies) in Brazil and Costa Rica of varying farm sizes.
“Central America can consume 50% of its production if it makes innovation trickle down,” said Brando, “but massive consumption requires lower cost coffees including different quality coffees: washed, naturals, Robustas.”
Brando urged the need for coffee producers to “break paradigms” or “risk today’s growers becoming labour for larger farms.”
- Vanessa L Facenda, editor of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She may be contacted via [email protected]