Malawi is failing to fully reap from the current high global demand for coffee due to productive capacity constraints, says Peter Njikho, Coffee Technical and Marketing Exucutive for the Coffee Association of Malawi.
Prices for the commodity have been increasing for the past five years. In 2006, the average price for coffee on the international market was U$D2.60, U$D3 in 2007, and the association expects prices of no less than U$D3 this year, according to Njikho.
"Prices of coffee have really been favourable for the past five years such that there is high demand which, unfortunately, we are failing to fully utilise due to lack of capacity to match with demand," said Njikho, who added, however, that Malawi has been working on improving quality first.
The initiative to improve quality has now borne fruit, as the country's coffee has been elevated from Faq (Fair Average Quality) to premium, quaranteeing high market value for the crop.
Njikho also attributed the country's failure to tap from the high demand on the inactivitity of the Central region in growing coffee. He said the Central region districts of Ntchisi, Dowa, Dedza and Ntcheu, but they stopped cultivating the crop in the wake of the coffee pricing crisis that marred the world in the early 1990s.
"Not only the Central region, even some estates in the Southern region up-rooted the crop because of that crisis, and we have been trying to build from that over the years to make sure that these districts join Mzimba, Rumphi, Nkhatabay and Chitipa in the Northern region; as well as Chiradzulu, Thyolo and some estates- who are currently active growers of the crop," he said.
Malawi has, however, seen an increase in coffee production over the same past five years to the effect that, in 2007 coffee production reached 2250 metric tones. It is expected that 2600 metric tones will be produced in 2008. Already, the country has exported seven containers, and the average price for that coffee has been U$D3.
The country's coffee is sold in the Netherlands and Germany, through South African brokers.
Njikho added that many small holder farmers were now taking to the trade as 3500 farmers had joined the association, increasing the number of smallholder farmers in coffee farming from 1500 who were growing coffee five years ago.
The association, which was formed in 1981, now aims at reviving coffee farming in the Central region to meet demand, a development the Technical and Marketing executive says would ultimately see Coffee replacing tobacco as the country's net export earner.