Dec 2014

The Bean Belt

Posted by / in B4Blessing News, Coffee / No comments yet

As Christians we are familiar with the “Bible belt,” the region in the southern United States that has a large protestant population. Beyond that you might have heard of the “rust belt” (postindustrial region), the “Asian rice belt” or the “wheat belt.” But have you ever heard of the “bean belt?”

Dutch Coffee - Erwin Kint - B4Blessing Alliance

Erwin Kint

If you would ask someone the question “Where is coffee being grown in the world?” the average European or American would probably answer, Brazil or South-America. True! Brazil and the South-American continent are still the major coffee producers by far. According to data of the international coffee organization Brazil produces about one third and the South-American continent produces almost 50% of all coffee being produced world wide. But really, coffee is being grown in many different parts of the world. The region where coffee is being grown or can be grown is called the “coffee belt” or “bean belt.” It is the region between the tropic of Cancer, 24˚north of the equator and the tropic of Capricorn, 24˚ south of the equator.

coffee map 4Picture: r: Robusta a: Arbica m: both Robusta and Arabica

Coffee can be grown at different altitudes, ranging from sea-level to about 6300 feet. Different types of coffee are grown at different altitudes. Robusta is grown at lower altitudes ranging from sea-level to about 3000 feet, while Arabica is typically grown at higher altitudes between 1800-6300 feet. Brazil, by far the largest coffee producer, produces predominantly Arabica beans. Vietnam, number two in terms of production, is the main producer of Robusta coffee in the world and only a tiny fraction of its coffee production is Arabica. Indonesia, the other significant producer in Asia, also grows predominantly Robusta beans. Coffee is also being grown in Africa. As explained in the previous blog, Ethiopia is the cradle of coffee and Ethiopia is still the leading African country in terms of coffee production, although contributing only 5-10% to the world’s coffee production.

But where is coffee production growing? Would that be where the market is growing fastest as well? The following graph gives an overview of production by region for the last 50 years.

Coffee worldproduction graph

Picture: Source: World coffee trade (1963 – 2013): A review of the markets, challenges and opportunities facing the sector, ICC 111-5 Rev.1, 24 Feb 2014.

Over the past 50 years we see that Asia & Oceania has seen the highest production growth. The strongest growth has happened in the last 20 years with Vietnam becoming a very significant producer. In 10 years Vietnam almost doubled its production. Beyond Vietnam growth has been seen in Papua New Guinea and Thailand, but production is not growing very fast. Sometimes other crops such as rubber and palm oil compete with coffee production. In 2010 there was news that Thailand’s coffee production was dropping, as many growers in the South turned to more lucrative rubber crops. Rubber prices were 110-115 Baht per kilogram. Today the rubber prices are in the range of 50 Baht, but switching crops requires a lot of time. For rubber trees it takes about 7 years to come to the productive phase and for coffee trees about 4 years.

Coffee consumption is increasing, particularly in Asia, and coffee production will continue to grow as well. Along with GDP growth we will see a conversion from Robusta based coffee consumption towards Arabica based in emerging markets. But where along the “bean belt” are the best opportunities? Will the start of the Asian Economic Community in 2015 provide more opportunities and growth of coffee production? I hope we will see many different countries, like Myanmar and Laos become significant coffee producers, providing the world with an even wider variety of specialty coffees. Wouldn’t it be great to have a specialty coffee from Myanmar, Haiti or Uganda in your favorite coffee-shop in Amsterdam or Los Angeles? Even more when you know that buying that coffee also means being a blessing to the community where it was grown.

Enjoy your coffee!

Resources used:
World coffee trade (1963 – 2013): A review of the markets, challenges and opportunities facing the sector, ICC 111-5 Rev.1, 24 Feb 2014
Coffee Annual Report Ethiopia – GAIN Report ET- 1302, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 14-May-2013
Coffee Annual Report Vietnam – GAIN Report VM4028, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 23-May-2014
Coffee Annual Report Indonesia – GAIN Report ID1416, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 13-May-2014

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