African coffee production will retreat from record highs in 2016-17 but will remain high – helped by a climb by farmers to higher altitudes in the face of climate change fears.
Africa’s main four coffee-growing countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – will see production drop by nearly 1.0m bags to 11.97m bags to 2016-17, US Department of Agriculture foreign staff said in their first estimates for the season.
The decline will reflect drops in both output of arabica beans – which account for the majority of African output, and indeed originated in Ethiopia – and robusta crops in some countries, as a hangover from the latest, bumper harvest.
Coffee trees have a habit, unless carefully managed, of showing cycles of alternate higher and lower production years.
Even so, the 2016-17 crop would – if it meets the expectations of the USDA attaches – rank as the second biggest ever, behind only the record 2015-16 harvest, which at 12.91m bags, far exceeded initial expectations.
Indeed, output in Ethiopia, Africa’s top grower, is expected to continue to buck the biennial production cycle and gain for a ninth successive year, showing a small rise to a record 6.52m bags, the USDA bureau in Addis Ababa said.
|African coffee output forecasts, 2016-17 and (year-on-year change)
Ethiopia: 6.518m bags, (+0.1%)
Uganda: 3.70m bags, (-17.8%)
Tanzania: 1.05m bags, (-16.0%)
Kenya: 700,000 bags, (+7.7%)
Sources: USDA attache reports, Agrimoney.com
The increase reflects largely growth in commercial output, while production of forest-grown and lower-yielding coffee in south-western areas declines.
Ethiopia’s government is also supporting measures to boost yields which, at 0.7-0.8 tonnes per hectare, are half those of Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee-growing country.
However, the bureau also noted a shift by farmers to elevated highland areas, in an effort to escape climate change which “some researchers believe… will lead to increased levels of coffee disease and pests”, besides shifts in growing conditions.
“Climate change is considered to be a growing threat to the future of the country’s coffee industry,” the USDA bureau said, adding that arabica trees, which account for all Ethiopia’s output, are deemed more vulnerable to changes in temperature than their robusta peers.
|African coffee export forecasts, 2016-17 and (year-on-year change)
Ethiopia: 3.525m bags, (+0.2%)
Uganda: 4.0m bags, (unchanged)
Tanzania: 1.03m bags, (-15.6%)
Kenya: 650,000 bags, (unchanged)
Total: 9.205m bags, (-2.0%)
Sources: USDA attache reports, Agrimoney.com
“Researchers posit that Ethiopia’s coffee production could move to higher elevations as temperatures rise.
“In fact, there are reportedly smallholder highland farmers who have begun to grow coffee in areas that previously were not suitable for production,” the bureau said, noting that Ethiopia’s government is backing research into coffee varieties deemed “adaptable to climate change”.
The comments come amid concerns in other coffee-producing countries over the threat posed by the warming identified by many scientists, and which climatologist Jeffrey Sachs said last year is to bring a “significant loss” in growing areas.
‘Biennial bearing cycle’
Coffee output in Kenya will rise in 2016-17, recovering from levels at the last harvest which, at 650,000 bags, were the lowest in more than 50 years, hurt by dryness, blamed on El Nino, as well as higher labour costs and the loss of plantation area to development.
|Coffee output and exports, Africa’s top-four producers
2016-17: 11.965m bags, (9.205m bags)
2015-16: 12.908m bags, (9.389m bags)
2014-15: 11.605m bags, (8.50m bags)
2013-14: 11.845m bags, (8.488m bags)
2012-13: 11.765m bags, (8.60m bags)
Sources: USDA attache reports, USDA, Agrimoney.com
“Programmes that are aimed at opening up new production areas and rehabilitation of abandoned farms continue to be implemented by both the county and national governments,” the USDA’s Nairobi bureau said.
However, output in Tanzania will fall by 200,000 bags to 1.05m bags, “due to the biennial bearing cycle,” USDA staff said.
And in Uganda, the 2016-17 crop, at 3.70m bags, will fall 800,000 bags short of the record 4.5m-bag crop last time, with the decline also “due to the biennial bearish cycle”.
The production declines will feed through into a drop in exports too from the four countries although, at a combined 9.21m bags, they would still be the third biggest on record.
Exports in 2015-16 are pegged at 9.39m bags, although the all-time high was set in 1996-97, when shipments reached a combined 9.50m bags.
Indeed, Africa’s recent uptick in production contrasts with a long-term decline in its coffee fortunes from previous peaks reached in the mid-1990s.
The USDA will later on Friday unveil the latest edition of its twice-yearly Coffee Outlook report, giving its official global supply and demand forecasts.