Zimbabwe’s coffee sector getting a Nespresso lift
Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous coffee industry was all but wiped out under the Robert Mugabe regime, but investment by one of the world’s biggest coffee companies could make the nation a major exporter once more.
Its high-quality, rich Arabica beans were a firm favourite of coffee connoisseurs around the world in the 1980s and ’90s.
The country’s coffee industry was ruined by the near four-decade reign of Mugabe’s land reforms.
More than 4,500 white farmers, who had been growing tobacco, maize, sugar cane and coffee, were violently evicted from their land, which was subsequently redistributed to about 300,000 black families.
Coffee production plummeted because the new growers lacked necessary expertise in cultivating the beans, sending exports plummeting.
Many mills were left empty, having been abandoned by their new owners, while other farmers were plunged into debt as the lack of foreign investment meant they were unable to secure loans to repair machinery or finance exports.
At the height of production in 1989, Zimbabwe produced about 15,000 tons of coffee, according to the World Bank, placing it among the top 30 exporters in the world.
But production sank to 500 tons in 2017, while the number of commercial producers fell from 120 before the land reforms to just a handful now.
International Coffee Organisation chief economist Denis Seudieu said production collapsed because of political reasons and the fluctuating value of coffee, which had caused farmers to abandon their crops and focus on other commodities, like maize and tobacco.
However, there appears to be hope on the horizon for Zimbabwe’s coffee farmers.
Interest from coffee companies has provided farmers with the funds to revive production.
Nestle-owned Nespresso, whose advertisements feature George Clooney, is launching limited-edition Zimbabwean coffee capsules in 18 countries, including the UK and US.
The new range is part of the coffee giant’s revivals programme, where it teams up with anti-poverty nonprofit TechnoServe to go into countries that produce high-quality coffee but struggle to generate the volumes needed for export.
“We started working in Zimbabwe two years ago,” Nespresso chief executive Jean-Marc Duvoisin said.
“The coffee quality there is very high but volume had completely collapsed and was almost disappearing.
“So we developed a plan to support farmers in the country to improve their yields.”
The Swiss coffee giant will spend R24.3m over five years on the project, which helps to pay for local agronomists to train 450 farmers to produce the best possible product. –