Tara Sabre Collier

NexThought Monday: Angolan Robusta – Getting the Best Coffee in the World to Market

Imagine if, after drinking only Fanta soda your entire life, you tasted fresh-squeezed organic orange juice for the first time? You’d discover a world of flavors so bright and a level of freshness, so high it’d completely redefine your standards for juice, and you’d probably never want to look at a soft drink ever again.

That’s basically what happened when I took my first sip of organic Angolan coffee, just roasted, ground, and brewed by the directors of Angola’s National Coffee Institute. My palate was overcome by the whirlwind of this silky yet smoky, round yet sharp, earthy yet luxurious taste experience. In all my years of Folgers, Starbucks, Illy, Bustelo and even Turkish coffee, nothing had ever come close. It’s like I had been living a lie, thinking I was drinking coffee all these years, but it was just a castoff substitute of the real thing.

After tasting it, it was no surprise to learn that prior to the war, coffee had been Angola’s leading export. In fact, Angola was once the world’s fourth biggest coffee exporter because its Robusta – so silky yet full-bodied – is one-of-a-kind. According to the National Coffee Institute, there was so much demand for Angolan Robusta that after the war started, it had to be exported and cultivated abroad since the national coffee industry-entered paralysis.

In 2007, just five years after the war’s conclusion, the industry was effectively re-launched with the first international shipment of Angolan coffee. Today, there are dozens of cooperatives and a few local manufacturers that supply ground and whole coffee beans to domestic and international markets. I had the pleasure of working with some of these coffee cooperatives, under the auspices of Pro-Angro Angola, a USAID-funded project to advance Angola’s agricultural sector. Pro-Agro aims to promote economic growth within a sector that generates over 60 percent of Angola’s livelihoods yet only 10 percent of GDP. Despite the fact that the country is extremely fertile, agricultural productivity is low and underdeveloped and thus, in Luanda, much of the food is imported. This discrepancy, of course, contributes to Angola’s high poverty rates and hence, the rationale for ProAgro’s agricultural development programs.

Returning to the subject of Angolan coffee, I was 100 percent sure after tasting it that it could overtake Brazil and Colombia, and fill all of our cafes, grocery stores and kitchen counters with this amazing lush aroma and spectacular taste. But, in interviewing cooperatives, manufacturers and buyers, I came across several caveats that hinder the Angolan coffee industry and its farmers, and thus, our access to this marvelous product.

  • Quality & Quantity: Most of the existing plants are several decades old, thus reducing output per hectare. The only remedy is planting more hectares or new plants, both of which require capital and due to the production cycle, the investment takes a few years to recoup. Additionally, many cooperatives lack adequate machinery for shelling and cleaning, which can compromise the quality delivered to manufacturers. Moreover, coffee is significantly more labor intensive than other crops and short-staffed cooperatives end up reducing product quality.

  • Transformation: There are insufficient facilities for transforming green coffee beans into finished products and because of their lack of access to machinery, many farmers simply sell the raw material wholesale to walking vendors who then transform these goods in the cities.

  • Transport: Most farmers are in rural areas, and Robusta production is concentrated in Gabela, Amboim, and Kwanza Sul. Transport to processing centers can be complicated and costly, which means it is often at the buyers’ expense.

  • Export: Export requirements are not always clearly communicated and the paperwork and processing can result in long delays and high costs. These delays are costs are worthwhile given that international market prices (based on London Commodity Exchange) are almost twice as high as Angolan prices, but most cooperatives cannot bear these prices up front.

Obviously, financing and training are key to resolving much of these caveats but perhaps there are also other solutions that will help the Angolan coffee sector advance.

Thus, I am sharing these challenges with you, Nextbillion readers, in hopes of gathering insights and resources from the blog’s global audience. What has worked in your country or sector that can overcome these hurdles in Angola?

poverty alleviation, smallholder farmers