Statistics gathered after a high level coffee stakeholder conference held last week in Mutare show that organic coffee production mostly in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands pl-unged to 300 tonnes in 2010 from a peak production of 15 000 tonnes in 1990 when farmers raked in US$37,5 million from sales.
Production has been in freefall for the past 10 years, signalling a threat to the livelihood of both commercial and communal farmers in Manicaland and some parts of Marondera.
Addressing the conference, outgoing European Commission (EC) head of delegation, ambassador Xavier Marchal said the coffee sector fell after newly resettled farmers replaced the coffee tree with the staple maize crop.
Coffee farmers need at least four years to harvest the cash-crop.
“Today the coffee sector is moribund, with 300 tonnes produced in 2010. A sheer embarrassment, particularly for thousands of communal farmers who want to improve their livelihoods and income, and become part of the prestigious world fraternity of growers of what is called the “black gold”, in partnership with commercial coffee farmers,” said Marchal.
“Unless there is immediate intervention with a sustainable business plan, Zimbabwe will no longer be able to produce fine Arabic Coffee. But with good immediate political will and serious technical foundations, it is not an impossible goal to reverse this trend.”
Arabic coffee was originally brought to the country by members of the Moodle Trek in the 1890s, making it a comparatively new crop to Zimbabwe. The crop nearly died out in the 1920s when disease destroyed most of the small plantations, resurging in 1958 and establishing itself in the 1960s.
The EC, according to Marchal, contributed US$9, 2 million towards the STABEX fund, a compensatory finance scheme to stabilise export earnings of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The EC, however, suspended assistance to Zimbabwe in 2006 after it became apparent that beneficiaries of the controversial land reform exercise were felling the coffee tree to grow maize.
Coffee Growers Association chairman, Charles Taffs, this week told businessdigest that frequent farm disruptions and a breakdown in the rule of law were affecting coffee production.
“Most of the coffee growing estates were taken over during the land reform exercise. Until we restore our record on property rights, production will continue to be on the decline. We now have four estates from 120,” said Taffs who also doubles as Commercial Farmers Union vice president.
Ethiopia is the only African country in the top 10 of coffee producing countries led by Brazil and Colombia.