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Zimbabwe Coffee Growers' Association convenes.

At the annual general meeting of the Zimbabwe Coffee Growers Association held recently in Harare, chairman, Jimmy Aitken, reported that exactly the same problems--namely continued low international prices, lack of rainfall in the main producing areas and the Constitutional Amendment in respect of redistribution of commercial farm land--that affected the industry last year were still in the forefront of growers minds creating a negative attitude.

He added that the situation was far worse than a year ago. The poor rainfall of the 1991/92 season following the below average 1990/91 season was unprecedented in the history of the Zimbabwean coffee industry and by November 1992, the industry would be in an extremely perilous state. Rainfall in the Chipinge area, where 75% of Zimbabwe's coffee crop was grown, was about 25% of normal and not much better in other coffee areas.

Aitken said that the crop would be reduced to about 4,000 tons, less than 30% of normal production, and quality would be much lower than normal, making the task of processing and marketing the crop more difficult. Added to the woes of the drought, world coffee prices were at 22-year lows.

Turning to the Constitutional Amendment and subsequent Land Acquisition Act, the chairman said that the whole commercial farming community had lost confidence in the future and awaited Government's implementation of their Land Reform policy. He hoped that there would be meaningful dialogue and that pragmatism and reason would prevail.

Aitken said that total deliveries for the year ended March 31, 1992 were 12,097 tons--11,916 tons of Arabica and 181 tons of Robusta. The quality was also down due to lower rainfall in 1990/91.

The chairman reported that the Association had been very anxious that growers should take over the processing and marketing of the Zimbabwe coffee crop from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a Government controlled statutory body. However, as a result of the drought and growers' reduced income, coupled with Zimbabwe entering a new economic phase with interest rates spiralling to unprecedented levels, it was decided that to raise capital in this environment would be difficult and expensive and to establish a new entity at this time would result in an almost unmanageable debt burden.

He added that the Association was looking for alternatives and already had had promising discussions with a potential investor, which emphasized the necessity of processing Zimbabwe coffee beyond the green bean stage.

He believed that added value in the current and foreseeable world market was going to be essential if coffee was to remain a viable crop for Zimbabwe farmers.

Aitken reiterated that although the Association had slowed down, its goal was still to privatize processing and marketing as soon as it became financially practical.

The chairman said that the quality of Zimbabwe coffee caused concern with a number of buyers indicating that the quality in respect to both acidity and body of the top codes had deteriorated in recent years.

In order to investigate this worrying situation, the Association had a sub-committee which concluded that no single factor could be identified as a reason for the decline in quality, but there was a combination of factors which were primarily drought related. Although steps had been taken to improve the quality, these good intentions had been overtaken by the 1991/92 drought which would lead to a further deterioration in quality during the current season.

Aitken appreciated the efforts of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, through the Finance Trust of Zimbabwe, in making funds available to commercial banks for colending to coffee producers at preferential interest rates from May to August. He also welcomed the recently announced roll-over facility of concessional overdraft interest rates for farmers affected by the current drought.

The chairman said that although inputs for coffee production had generally been available, the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar had resulted in greatly increased costs, for example fertilizer rising by 60%.

He added that growers had been able to take advantage of the Export Retention Scheme whereby a percentage of their export earnings was allocated to growers for the purchase of imported items needed for coffee production. However, declining earnings would prevent maximum usage.

Because of the drop in production, the Association's income had been greatly reduced and consequently its expenditure had to be reduced accordingly. Some growers wanted the levy to the Association reduced, but Aitken believed that it would be wrong to further reduce the Association's already depleted revenue base, as it would result in a major cutback in services to growers.

The chairman said that the year had not been an easy one and for many, it had been the nadir of their coffee growing experience. He believed that the end of the dark tunnel had not yet been reached, but hopefully by the time of next year's AGM, although a little battered, growers would still be full of that indomitable spirit which somehow kept the Zimbabwe commercial farmer producing his crops year in and year out.

African coffee--a crisis or challenge

The current low level of world coffee prices is causing more suffering amongst African producers than most others. African coffee exports are second only to oil, with more than 50% of all farmers in the continent depending upon the crop as their principal source of income.

Consequently many governments and rural households view the current situation as a crisis which must be ameliorated.

A step in this direction was the recent meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, of coffee research scientists and other specialists from 13 member states of the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO). The seminar on "Promoting research on productivity and quality of coffee in Africa" was jointly organized by the IACO and the Technical Centre for Agricultural TCA and Rural Cooperation.

While meetings in London of the ICO debated a new coffee agreement and ways of stabilizing prices, the Lisbon seminar reviewed the practical ways for African producers to win back market share which has been lost to Latin American and even to relatively new coffee producers in Asia, such as Indonesia. However, in order to regain market share, some African producers will have to enhance their reputation for producing quality coffee.

Africa still has much background of which it can be proud and to build upon: Uganda has maintained its reputation for high quality Robusta coffee throughout very difficult political and economic times; Kenya's techniques of production and processing of Arabica coffee are recognized as a benchmark and many francophone African scientists and growers are anxious to visit Kenya and learn; and Zimbabwe, a relative newcomer to coffee production has developed a highly intensive fully irrigated system of growing Arabica, which is being followed by its neighbors, Malawi and Zambia.

The Zimbabwe approach is to allow trees to grow freely with little or no pruning, thus reducing costs, and to replant every seven years. The youthful vigor of the trees keeps them relatively disease-free and yields in excess of 5,000 kg per hectare of washed useable coffee are common under this system.

In contrast, average yields of 200 to 300 kg of coffee are harvested in many traditional areas. Quality is also variable because of picking unripe berries and drying on the ground or in adequate racks. The problem is aggravated by not sorting out the dirt before the sale, and must be resolved because consumers in Western Europe, the U.S. and Japan are becoming more selective. Coffee producers everywhere must strive to improve quality in order to maintain their market share.

African coffee producers realized the need to take action and the director of the CTA, Assoumou Mba, came straight to the point when he emphasized the need for African coffee producing countries to communicate with each other and share their research findings and experiences. Assoumou Mba, former director of Agriculture of Cameroon, a country which, because of its past mandate status resulting from being a former German colony prior to the Great War, is both homophone and francophone. This West African country also produces both Arabica and Robusta coffees in almost equal quantities. Consequently, Cameroon recognizes and demonstrates the benefits of bridging barriers of language and coffee species which so often divide African coffee industries.

As a result of this Lisbon seminar, a network is to be established which will break the isolation of coffee research and extension workers in Africa and through a newsletter will keep them updated on work elsewhere on the continent as well as information from outside Africa.

A working party comprising of representatives from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Kenya and Uganda will work with the CTA and IACO to prepare the working procedures and draft budget for the Research Network for Improvement of Coffee in Africa (RNICA).

Although the RNICA will facilitate and expedite the exchange of research results and plant breeding material, there is also the need for support from government policies and marketing strategies as well as prices incentives if farmers are to produce quality coffee in Africa.
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Title Annotation:problems in coffee production for Zimbabwe pointed out by chairman Jimmy Aitken; includes related article on coffee industry throughout Africa
Author:Kille, Turville
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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