Farmers in Latin America who are known for their high-quality arabica coffee are beginning to plant cheaper crops in order save money.
The crop, robusta, is currently outlawed in some countries. In places like Columbia and Costa Rica, farmers have feared the bean will ruin their reputation as suppliers of the world’s best coffee. But an increasing number of farmers are are beginning to see the bitter bean as a better business opportunity.
Robusta is generally processed into instant coffee or added as a cheap ingredient to brewed blends. It can also be used to create froth in certain espressos.
Latin America and the Caribbean supply 11% of the value of world food production. And when it comes to coffee, arabica accounts for about 60% of the world’s coffee beans, while robusta accounts for the remainder of beans.
So while the crop is banned in places like Costa Rica, which has outlawed the crop since 1988, coffee producers from Columbia to Guatemala are dedicating more land to growing robusta.
In Guatemala and Nicaragua, the industry has planned robusta expansions that would allow for an increase in their combined harvest by five times, to about 540,000 60-kg bags.
This increase would make up almost 1% of global output and bring supplies closer to North American coffee makers. This, in turn, would cut freight costs and shipping times.
Another contributing factor to the increase in robusta is the changing climate. Because the crop survives better in warmer temperatures, hotter climates aren’t a problem. And the crop has enough caffeine to make its trees more robust against some diseases and pests.
This is an important factor to consider, especially after farmers growing arabica in Central America were hit with a widespread airborne fungus, roya, in 2012. In areas that are more susceptible to roya and other diseases, producers are beginning to look to robusta as an alternative crop.
This change seems to come at a good time. With the demand for all coffee worldwide on track to reach a record number this year, producers are doing all they can to make sure their output stays on track.
“It has good productivity and a good price,” said Evelio Matamoros, a farmer in Nicaragua who first planted robusta in 2010. Robusta “has better yields and it doesn’t need shade. That matters.”