Central Africa coffee round-up. - Free Online Library

In comparison with Kenya's annual coffee production of over a

million bags, the output of the Central and Southern African countries

is relatively small. Production for 2003/04 is estimated at 115,000 bags

for Zimbabwe, 105,000 for Zambia (which could increase to 150,000 in

three years) and 65,000 for Malawi. These countries grow only Arabica,

which is comparable in quality to that of Kenya. Virtually the entire

production is exported, as domestic consumption is minimal.

Historically, coffee was first introduced into Central Africa in

1876, with tea following in 1888. Present-day Malawi was the first into

the business, followed soon after by Zimbabwe and finally Zambia--the

territories formerly known as Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia and Northern

Rhodesia. Some of the original British settlers introduced their planter know-how from the Indian sub-continent. Today, the coffee crops are all

fine washed Arabicas, which are mainly grown and graded on

well-established estates, while smaller quantities are produced by

smallholders who are helped by expert advice from the commercial


The Malawi coffee is generally lower grown than the others in the

region, and has a light to medium body, medium acidity, and a nutty

flavor in the cup. The Zambia and Zimbabwe coffees are light to medium

in body, medium to good in acidity, with a nutty to winey flavor in the


The overall picture is described by Lionel de Roland-Phillips, a

director of I. & M. Smith (Pry) Ltd--an import-export company based

since 1915 in Johannesburg, with offices in Malawi and Zimbabwe, and an

associate office in Zambia. «The professional management of the

regional coffee production results in a well graded product to suit both

the conventional and gourmet roasting industries,» he says.

«We also export good quantities of select quality estate coffees,

for the specialty industry. These are shipped to both the larger

specialty roasters and to specialty coffee wholesalers, who distribute

to the micro roasters. This special client base includes customers in

North America, Europe, Japan, Australasia and the Middle East.

»Individual estate coffees are shipped from all three origins.

The coffees are all sent south in break bulk trucks to our central

Johannesburg warehouse for final quality control and containerization.

«The altitude of the I & M Smith warehouse is 5,400 ft.

above sea level and at 26 degrees South latitude, which is 2.5 degrees

south of the tropics. The Johannesburg climate ensures ideal storage

conditions with a very low humidity factor and a temperature range

within the warehouse of 14-24[degrees]C. Shipments are made in regular

320-bags 19.2 Mt net containers, and also in bulk containers of the

equivalent of 360 bags 21.6 MT net per container.

»If required, mixed containers of rotate and customized

coffees can be shipped. This can give the lower volume customer a

container that has coffees of all three origins, and likewise a range of

grades from each origin. For example an AA and PB from each origin could

deliver a 300-320 bag mix of three origins and therefore, six grades, to

allow for more regular imports of a good variety of fresh coffees.

«This specialty market is a growing factor in the overall

world market. With the strong commitment to quality from the regional

commercial farming industry, buyers can be sure of reliable quality and

continuity of supply. On a long term basis, the company offers fixed

prices that can be negotiated for periods of up to 5 years.»

Even the packing requirements can be specialized. For some

wholesalers, customized bags are designed that promote quality estate

coffees--attractive for display purposes and to include the

wholesaler's name.

The company is also deeply involved with tea exports from Zimbabwe

and especially from Malawi, where estate tea production at around 40,000

tons is a much higher volume commodity than coffee. These tea exports

are managed in the same manner as coffee, with all teas consolidated in

Johannesburg for final quality control and containerization. This

means--as some smaller tea and coffee packers and roasters require--that

the company can even do combined shipments of both commodities.

For a different angle on the region's coffee industry, Fiona

McDonald of Zimbabwe Coffee Mill Ltd said: «It's no secret

that our coffee industry has been adversely affected by the

country's land redistribution exercise, with almost half of the

nation's crop having been affected. However, Zimbabwean farmers are

resilient in the face of difficulties. They continue to produce a high

quality crop similar to that of the Kenyan Arabica in its clean, mild

cup, balanced acidity and body.»

Zimbabwe Coffee Mill Ltd. is the country's largest green

coffee processor, situated in the Eastern Highlands capital city of

Mutare. A service company, wholly owned by both commercial and

small-scale growers, the Mill was set up in 1994 following deregulation of the coffee industry.

The primary function of the Mill is to process green coffee to

internationally acceptable standards. It issues a quality certificate

against every parcel of coffee that it exports, to verify that the

coffee has been graded according to strict quality standards.

The company's fully washed coffees meet European Preparation

grading standards and comply with the European Contract for Coffee. The

plant has a hulling facility for parchment coffee, and a Pinhalense

grading line with capacity of eight tons per hour. Storage capacity in

its two large warehouses is around 2,200 tons.

Whilst its core function is to offer a grading, blending and

bagging service to growers, Zimbabwe Coffee Mill also markets coffee on

behalf of growers wishing to use this service. The Mill has

well-established links with several international buyers and traders,

who have come to rely on the Mill for consistency of supply and quality

of product. Much of the coffee marketed by the Mill is sold through an

in-house tender system, whereby buyers are invited to submit bids,

normally on the basis of samples but sometimes on an unseen basis.

The Mill has also adapted to Zimbabwe's changing economic

fortunes by developing innovative mechanisms to sustain the operations

of the country's coffee growers. Farmers have found it difficult to

source local funding of their operations on an individual basis. So, for

the past three years, the Mill has sourced seasonal financing through a

progressive local bank, to on-lend to growers. This arrangement has

benefited both the growers and the Mill in terms of ensuring continued

throughput of coffee.

The Mill has tried to encourage the development of small-scale

producers' crops by offering advance payments within 10 days of

delivery to the Mill, followed by the return of any profits made on the

sale of the crop. The Mill has also been involved in securing scarce

commodities on behalf of all growers, such as chemicals, fertilizers and

fuel. These commodities have become increasingly difficult to procure owing to the country's limited foreign currency resources. The Mill

has also ventured into a new value-adding initiative: a small roasting

operation named Safari Roasting (Private) Limited. The roasting company

has the advantage of being able to tap into some of the best coffee

produced in Zimbabwe through its association with the Mill. Safari

Roasting is also able to draw on the expertise of the Mill's chief

liquorer, Caiphas Mlambo, who trained under Jeremy Wakeford,

Zimbabwe's best-known liquorer.

Safari Roasting presently offers two main blends: its Safari Roast

Classic Blend, using some of the finest coffee available from Zimbabwean

growers, and its Safari Roast House Blend, a very drinkable, pleasant

coffee for daily consumption. The company is also open to partnerships

with established suppliers regionally and internationally, and is able

to develop blends to suit different clients' particular


The Classic and House Blend coffees are packaged in high-quality,

re-sealable pouches produced by one of the best packaging factories in

South Africa, and are primarily destined for export. The African safari

theme is used in all marketing material. While still in its early stages

of development, and operating a Pinhalense roaster with a small roasting

capacity, the company looks forward to sustained growth in the years to


Like all producers worldwide, Zimbabwean coffee growers have

suffered from the low world producer prices. The Mill has employed a

European marketing agent, Paul Spear, to assist in developing new

markets and in promoting the country's coffee. Zimbabwe Coffee Mill

and Safari Roasting will both participate at the East African Fine

Coffee Association Conference and Exhibition to be held in Nairobi,

Kenya from February 18-23, 2004.

Looking at trends from the growers' viewpoint, it's worth

considering the regional statistics published by FAS/USDA. In the year

1999/2000 the total production for Malawi was 59,000 bags; Zambia

58,000; Zimbabwe 122,000. The forecast for 2003/2004 was Malawi 65,000

bags; Zambia 90,000; Zimbabwe 115,000. But later estimates for the

current crop year suggest that Zambia's production will top 105,000


A detailed review of Zambia's ambitions was published in Tea

& Coffee Trade Journal's September 2003 issue, which envisaged

a potential three-fold increase in production within the next 10 years.

There is no shortage of land or water resources, and the government

actively encourages the transfer of under-utilized land to commercial

farming, usually on a 99-year renewable lease. But the main handicap is

the lack of long-term finance.

This is an important factor, as commercial coffee farms in Malawi,

Zambia and Zimbabwe are 100% under irrigation, with the majority using

drip line irrigation, while the center pivots are growing in popularity.

These drip lines and center pivots are also used to apply fertilizers

and chemicals, which can be introduced through the water filtration

plants that feed the irrigation system. The capital and input costs of

these technologies are an obstacle for the smallholder sector.

Production in Malawi has remained relatively static, as commercial

farmers find better financial results from tea or tobacco. In Zimbabwe,

the future depends on the political actions of the government.

Coffee today in Zimbabwe: the grower's perspective

As readers will no doubt be aware, Zimbabwe has been frequently in

the news of late for numerous reasons. Over 70% of the population are

unemployed. Inflation is officially estimated at 600%, but in reality

are already over 1000%. The economy is likely to contract by

double-digit figures this year.

Altogether it remains an extremely challenging environment in which

to do business. In light of the prevailing economic climate, the biggest

headaches today are the spiraling, and in real terms prohibitive, costs

of transport--besides, ironically, a general shortage of labor. Add in

the collapsing public sector (postal service, public health system,

telecoms and power) and you have a very mixed picture.

Richard Le Vieux, director of the Farfell Coffee Estateat Chipinge

on the Mozambique border said: «Amid these and other difficulties,

the coffee sector still continues to move ahead with a high level of

skills and material input. Although the national crop is today half of

its peak level some years ago, the high end of local production

continues to impress industry professionals and coffee lovers the world


»Quality prospects for this year's harvest (recently

ended) appear promising as rainfall, relative humidity and sunshine

hours have been generous to us this year.

«Innovation in the Zimbabwe coffee industry continues apace.

At the Farfell Estate, the most recent trials of both the Bourbon and

Mundo Nuovo varieties are looking very promising,» he remarks.

«We are alone in having a commercial hectarage of the Costa Rica 95

variety, now in its 4th year of production. This has proved a hardy tree

for our conditions, although the cup quality is not quite as fine as

that produced by the Mundo Nuovo trees, which now make up one third of

the plantation.

»Regular soil and leaf analysis is still carried out for the

Estate, and an annual pH adjustment is still made to improve soil

acidity and enhance quality production.

«One recent development that is less encouraging has been the

reticence of some traditional buyers of Zimbabwe coffee to continue

supporting those of us struggling to maintain standards and quality

production. That is purely because of a perceived political threat to

the continuity of supply from this otherwise small origin. Certain

American buyers fall into this category, although Europe and Japan

continue to give us their support, and have even increased it!»

For more information on Zimbabwe Coffee Mill or Safari Roasting, go

to www.zimcoffee.com or email fiona@zimbabwecoffee.co.zw or


Zambia Coffee Growers' Association, Ground Floor, T.A.Z.

House, corner ChaChaCha/Chiparamba Roads, P.O. Box 35388, 10101 Lusaka,

Zambia. Web site: www.zambicacoffee.com.

Reg Butler is a freelance journalist who covers the tea, coffee,

and tobacco industries for Lockwood Publications. He can be reached via

email at: r.butler@lockwoodpublications.com.

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