The Republic of Botswana, formally known as Bechuanaland, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa with a sparse population of just under 2.5 million people. It is bordered by Zimbabwe to the west, Zambia and Angola to the North, Namibia to the East, and South Africa to the South.
Prior to its independence in 1966, Botswana was one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Since then, it has begun to show promising growth as a country actively partaking in global trade, having joined the UN, Commonwealth, African Union, and Southern African Development Community.
Botswana’s coffee farming industry could be described as insubstantial, due to a lack of land, droughts, and altitudes that fall short when compared to neighbouring countries. However, there is no doubt that Botswana has great potential for growing coffee in the coming years.
Botswana Coffee Growing History
The coffee plant native to Botswana is called Bauhinia petersiana Bolle, also known as Kalahari White Bauhinia, and is considered a delicacy of the country. Aside from Bauhinia petersiana Bolle, however, there is little in the way of local substantial coffee farming. Most Botswanan involvement with the crop comes from buying green coffee beans from other countries, which are then roasted at dedicated sites, before being sold to cafes within the country itself, or exported abroad.
Though most people are not aware there is any coffee farming in the country at all, there are some efforts to establish farms in Botswana as both farmers and coffee enthusiasts have expressed interest in developing this industry within the last few years.
The lack of coffee farming is mainly due to land already being used for other, already established, commercial crops. What’s more, Botswana’s arid climate necessitates a reliance on crop rotation to aid in soil quality/fertility, meaning that perennial crops like coffee are less beneficial to the landscape. It’s instead more logical to plant annual crops that grow and die within a year, like beans, peas, and maize.
Botswana Coffee Farming
Most farms in Botswana are located in the east and northeast of the country. These areas sit at an approximate elevation of 1069 m.a.s.l, which is just within the acceptable range for coffee cultivation. Not much of Botswana’s land is suitable for productive crop farming, however, and as such agriculture amounts to less than a tenth of its gross national production, most of which is attributed to livestock.
So what makes Botswana such a terrible place to grow plants? With annual rainfall reaching a maximum of just 635mm annually, Botswana is categorised as having an arid to semi-arid climate. For comparison, coffee plants need a recommended 1500mm of water annually.
One of the solutions for this was introduced in Australia and has been titled ‘Water Use Efficiency’ (UWE). This involves measuring how many kilograms of grain are produced, per hectare, in relation to how much Plant Available Water (PAW) is needed over the duration of the growing season. It has shown that through effective management, crops can do well even where there is limited rainfall.
This mode of agronomic farming has been beneficial for a variety of factors including soil fertility, control of weeds, pests, diseases, timely planting, and harvest selection, as well as sound crop production.
Thanks to the support of government subsidies, Botswana is well supported to develop their production volumes. Appropriate management, technology, and government support have allowed for long-term financial viability of commercial crop production at farms such as Pandamatenga.
Botswana Coffee Production Regions
Most coffee farming in Botswana has been done in the Pandamatenga village located in the Chobe region to the northeast of the country. Pandamatenga hosts mineral-rich “black cotton soils” for crop production. This soil is acidic, sandy, and rich; offering perfect soil conditions for growing coffee.
According to Hill Botswana, a recently established coffee farm, the first commercial coffee crop was planted in Pandamatenga during the December of 2016 by Hill van Schalkwyk. The crop is grown amongst African Bush Elephants and is considered rare and unique.
Botswana Coffee Types and Varietals
Sadly, there is very little information circulating on specific coffee varieties being grown in Botswana. Due to its ability to grow in low altitudes, Botswana likely grows Robusta coffee. This is because it has good resistance to diseases and pests. It also allows for higher yields, which allows for more coffee to be grown on the lower hectares available in the farming regions.
Natural Wild Coffee
Interestingly, Botswana’s land grows its own ‘coffee’ shrub: Bauhinia petersiana Bolle. Also known as Kalahari White Bauhinia, it is called the wild coffee bean plant. The shrub grows to around three metres and is commonly found in dry places such as dry woodlands and the Kgalagadi sand veld, located in the southwest region of the country. The seeds it produces can be roasted and ground when matured, then used as a substitute for coffee. They are considered a delicacy in Botswana.
Botswana Coffee Flavour Profile
Coffee from Botswana can suit both medium and dark roasts. When medium roasted, the coffee offers a well-balanced and light fruity tone with notes of apricot. Dark roasts offer tasting notes of roasted tea with smoky flavours. There are also hints of cacao nibs and golden raisins. Finishing notes on the coffee give off a complexity of flavours that evoke caramelised sugar.
Botswana Coffee Harvest Date
Since rain is limited to summer downpours between December and March in Botswana, this also marks the season for ploughing and planting crops.
Botswana Coffee Annual Production
Botswana coffee is mainly grown on small independent farms. This means that very little is produced per annum. This is for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to the soil already being used for other commercial crops.
While annual production is very low, an increase in knowledge of coffee’s ability to grow in the country could benefit Botswana. The country has been shown to be capable of growing crops, even considering its frequent droughts. Therefore, there is a potential industry for coffee in the country.
Botswana Coffee Annual Export Volume
In 2020, Botswana exported around £261k in coffee, making it the 169th largest exporter of coffee in the world, and the 547th most exported product in Botswana. The main destinations of coffee exports are to South Africa, Namibia, and Denmark.
Though there is not much of a coffee farming industry in Botswana at the moment, the country is starting to see government farming subsidies. This, along with innovative agricultural techniques, means that Botswana can certainly develop its coffee industry should more hectares of farmable land become available.