Coffee industry expands as overseas demand rises
Expo: Myanmar Agro Food Exhibition
A farmer gathers coffee beans in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo - EPA
The Myanmar coffee industry has been developing rapidly in recent years and specialty coffee beans from the country is becoming well-known globally. With higher margins available overseas, more local farmers are raising efforts to improve the quality of their crops so that they meet international standards and that has raised the entire industry to a higher level.
Myanmar Coffee Association chairman U Myo Aye said the country’s specialty coffee “is getting acknowledged in the international market” while efforts have been made to sustain production in the local market, where consumption has grown.
“We are trying to increase production for the export market and at the same time cultivating more coffee beans to meet local demand, which comprises the bulk of the market for domestically-produced coffee,” he said.
He added that coffee production has improved especially in the last five years and the industry’s value chain from cultivation to market has also developed with technical assistance and help with market access from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“We’re now selling coffee from Ywangan in southern Shan State to the US, before 2014, we could not dream of it as the traditional method yielded poor quality beans,” U Myo Aye said, adding that prices ranged from US$4000 to US$10,000 per tonne for specialty coffee.
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, the country has 49,000 acres of coffee plantations, with 90 percent of them producing Arabica mainly in Shan State and Mandalay Region while Kayin State produces some Robusta. Annual coffee production has hit 8,000 tonnes.
With over 1000 tonnes shipped annually from 2014 to 2018, the value of the country’s coffee exports have also been increasing to US$6 million from over US$1.5 million in the same period according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce and the Myanmar Coffee Association. Of that amount, some 400 tonnes are considered as specialty coffee, with the rest classed as premium or commercial. Myanmar coffee is exported to 16 countries, including the US and Japan.
Myanmar Horticulture managing director U Ye Myint said efforts were being expanded in cultivating specialty coffee beans given the consumption trends overseas and the better prices these beans get.
“What we need now is to grow it and ensure that the industry is sustainable,” he said. Myanmar Horticulture also produces its own coffee and exports it.
A recent report from USAID showed that since 2013, technical assistance and training together with market advice has helped more than 8,000 farmers in producing higher quality beans and getting them to market. Private-sector banks have also done their part by giving out US$1 million in loans.
USAID mission director Teresa McGhie said at a recent industry meeting that the industry has improved due to the development of the value chain.
“It’s important to develop the value chain from the plantations to the market. We’ve been providing technical advice and market advice to coffee growers and processors and we’ve seen much improvement in recent years,” she said.
As part of the efforts to discourage poppy cultivation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also supported coffee cultivation in Shan State. UNODC and Malongo, a French specialty coffee roaster, has facilitated the exports of Shan Mountain Coffee this year to France.
In May, Vice President Henry Van Thio urged local farmers to plant more Arabica beans for export purposes and to substitute cheap, instant coffee with Robusta beans at home.
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