Ecuador invests in coffee
Ecuador invests in coffee
From the June 2014 issue.
Coffee growers in Ecuador are looking to triple their production over the next decade thanks to ambitious government programs.
It’s been less than five years since the first micro lots from Ecuador’s new farms in Pichincha scored 92 points, and attracted the attention of specialty roasters.
These roasters, however have had slim pickings from South America’s smallest coffee grower. Over the past few years, the country has clocked a steady 600,000 to 650,000 60-kilogram bags of production.
A walk in a Pichincha coffee farm shows why. The coffee farms here are small, and many of the Arabica trees have not yet started to produce cherries.
These young trees, however, are a good sign that roasters should soon have a better selection from Ecuador. The country’s government has been investing in expanding coffee cultivated land as part of a strategy to triple the country’s production to at least 2 million 60-kilogram bags in the next five to 10 years.
Ecuador Plans To Triple Its Coffee Production
One of South America’s smallest coffee growing countries, Ecuador has long hidden between giants like Brazil, Colombia and Peru. While Ecuador is unlikely to challenges the much larger producers in the region, the country’s coffee growers have with the aid of the government embarked on an ambitious new project which targets to triple output in the next 5-10 years.
By Maja Wallengren
The farms are small and many of the Arabica trees here have not even started to produce coffee cherries yet. But since the first micro lots from Ecuador’s new farms in the Pichincha coffee region started reaching the market less than five years ago and scored as high 92 points in quality, roaster and market interest has quickly surged.
Home only to a small area as of yet, the Pichincha region is one of the many areas in which the Government of Ecuador is promoting an expansion of the cultivated land as part of a strategy for the coffee sector to triple the country’s production to at least 2.0-2.1 million 60-kilogram bags in the next 5-10 years. One of only 15 nations worldwide that produce both Arabica and Robusta coffee, Ecuador’ production has in the last few years been stable at a total of between 600,000 and 650,000 bags. Of that volume, about 400,000 bags are of Arabica and the balance is made up of Robusta beans.
Although such major production increases appear unrealistic to many when initially hearing the figures, the evidence supporting the theory are starting to emerge. And if producers from south to north can keep up with the productivity from the first batch of new farms in the Pichincha region, then Ecuador could soon be on its way into the league of significant coffee growing countries.
“We planted the first hectare on the farm in 2008 and in 2010 we harvested 25 quintals (46-kilogran bags). Now we have a total of 2 hectares, both with a density of 6,000 trees each, and next year (2014-15) we should be able to harvest between 50 and 60 quintals,” said Magda Zavala of Finca La Perla. The first micro lot from La Perla scored 92 points on the 100-point scale developed by the Coffee Quality Institute.
Zavala and her husband Olger Rogel are not new in coffee. With three generations of coffee in their veins, the Zavala family has been growing coffee in Southern Ecuador’s Loja region while Rogel as an agronomist has worked his whole life with coffee plant improvement. Although coffee has been cultivated on a tiny scale for over 20 years in this region, the new comers here mostly come with extensive background in not just coffee growing, but also the technological skills and knowledge to make the most of the land.
“This is great land for coffee; It’s good soil, we have between 1600 and 1800 meters altitude on the farm and we’ve had almost 200 quintals in our best harvest, which was picked in 2010,” said Arnaud Causse, one of three partners in Las Tolas Estate. Las Tolas is spread out on 73 hectares of land deep into the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest in the northern most part of the Andes Mountains. An agronomist who has worked with tropical crops including coffee across Africa and Latin America, Causse says he wants the total are of 30 hectares planted with coffee to “have the forest absorb the coffee” and in the process work on improving both yields and quality.
From the coffee region behind the Pichincha Volcano north of the capital Quito to the south-central part of Ecuador near the commercial capital of Guayaquil, there is a new found sense of optimism over the future coffee holds for Ecuador.
“Because of the dry climate here we have no crop diseases and when the plantation is in full production we expect an average of at least 60 quintals (46-kilogram bags) per hectare,” said Francisco Aray, one of the farm managers at Hacienda Victoria. The Victoria coffee and cocoa estate, located some 20 kilometers west of Guayaquil, is a private investment which was launched less than four years ago, but which already is starting to yield returns.
“We have 200 hectares of robusta coffee of which 150 are now entering in production for the first time in 2014. But the plans are to expand production to as much as 2,000 hectares,” said Array, speaking to Global Coffee Report during a visit organized by Ecuador’s tourist and trade board ProEcuador. Such yields would at a 2000-hectare estate produce a harvest of 92,000 60-kilogram bags.
As part of a joint campaign by the Agriculture and Trade ministries, the results seen at farms such as Hacienda Victoria is exactly the type of development the government hopes to see more of in the next 5 to 10 years.
Ecuador, industry and government officials agree, has everything it takes to produce top quality coffees, from the multiple regions with multiple micro-climates that support coffee growing, to all the old varieties based on the original Ethiopian Arabica strains such as Typica and Bourbon. Since coffee production in Ecuador first started in the early 1860s, these varieties have been the main source of the Arabica industry and are recognized for their fine cup qualities. Add to this that a significant share of the Arabica coffee grown in Ecuador are found at altitudes close to or above 2,000 meters above sea level, the basics for quality coffee is not up for debate.
Silvana Vallejo, Vice Minister for Agriculture, said that besides the obvious reasons for increasing coffee production in areas where the crop can help boost the socio-economic development of the country’s 15 million inhabitants, there is a second agenda equally important.
“The substitution of coffee imports is a very important strategy for the government because Ecuador has a deficit of 1.5 million quintals and at the moment we are importing all this coffee,” Vallejo told GCR in an interview on the sidelines of the international Aromas de Ecuador trade fair in Guayaquil last year.
In the last five years Ecuador’s soluble sector has seen impressive growth, with total exports of instant coffee products doubling to 1.675 million bags in green coffee equivalent in the 2012-13 crop cycle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. That compares to just 861,000 bags in the 2008-09 cycle and is the direct reason for imports to rise to 1.4 million bags in the 2013-14 crop cycle from just 389,000 bags imported five years ago.
In 2012 the government launched the ‘Reactivation Project for Coffee And Cocoa with the purpose to revive the national coffee production of both arabica and robusta coffee through the re-activation of at least 80,000 hectares of land. The target is to do so through the planting of 30,000 hectares in new coffee lands with robusta, said Vallejo. In addition to the expanded areas between 50,000 and 70,000 hectares of arabica coffee with trees older than 30 and 40 years are are to be renovated and replanted with newer, more productive and disease-resistant varieties.
“Ecuador is home to so many micro climates and we have so many unique characteristics in the coffee sector, and from instant coffee to specialty we want to make a product that is all fully ours,” said Manuel Echeverría, Director of ProEcuador. The results still has to start showing up in figures, but there is little doubt this Andean country could provide more than a few surprises for the coffee sector in the next decade to come.