The once thriving coffee industry in Africa has never been able to recover after the depression in the ’90s, said Inter-African Coffee Organisation Secretary General Ambassadeur Josefa Sacko. Speaking at the annual general assembly in Nairobi, Sacko said that the depression saw prices tumble to an all time low and many countries turned to other cash crops to sustain their economies. Africa at one time controlled 32% of global coffee exports and now it controls only about 12%.
The coffee depression saw Kenyan small-scale farmers give up on coffee farming all together and estate farmers cut back their production quite significantly. “This saw Africa’s production capacity reducing from a massive 60% to a mere 20%,” Sacko added.
He was addressing the 50th annual general assembly of the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO) held in Nairobi between November 21 & 25.
This year’s conference was called “Coffee renaissance in Africa-The time is now”. The conference brought together delegates from various African nations. Some of those represented were Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Angola, DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Central African Republic, Ghana and many more.
Kenya, the host, was well represented by coffee farmers, co-operative society chairman, government officials, and various organisations that drive and give support to the agricultural sector. The opening ceremony was presided over by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture Dr. Romano Kiome.
Innovation is key
The international coffee players were also present aptly represented by the Secretary General of the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) Robério Silva and other members of the ICO. It became clear that the international coffee industry is doing far much better than Africa due to government support through policies and heavy financial backing. New innovations & technology adaptation also seem to have played a huge part in countries like Brazil and Columbia becoming the coffee giants they are today.
Marcos Brandalise, Managing Director of BrazAfric, a company that offers agricultural solutions said that East Africa and Kenya in particular needs to embrace new farming technologies and innovations as opposed to traditional modes which they seem to be clinging to.
Fred Mukasa, Board Secretary of Uganda Coffee Development Authority said the depression of the coffee industry in Uganda came about when majority of the estate farmers who mainly of Asian and European origin were forced out of the country by former President Idi Amin. This, however, saw small scale farmers rise up and fill the gap. Today Uganda is a success story with coffee as the number one cash crop and sustaining the economy.
One thing that kept resonating from delegates from other African countries was that they were in awe of Kenya’s strong co-operative societies where many admitted that this is something that lacked in their countries. Kenya is said to hold the largest number and most stable co-operative societies with a ministry dedicated entirely to co-operatives.
Coffee grower’s challenges
As with SMEs in other sectors, the main challenge facing small-scale coffee farmers is access to loans and credit services, with lending and interest rates becoming very high. However, farmers cited co-operatives as their biggest support when it came to financial support as well as educative services and dissemination of information. They however said that the government and bodies such as the coffee board of Kenya need to improve its support for small scale coffee farmers through policies, better governance and finance.
As was the theme of the conference, the coffee renaissance will gradually take place as the various bodies concerned with coffee growing are set to implement strategies and roll out new ones. The key factors to realizing the coffee renaissance being government, financing, adaptation and mitigation to climate change, new markets, domestic consumption of coffee, quality of coffee and competitive market prices.
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