Comoros, or as it is officially known, The Union of the Comoros, is an archipelagic country in the Indian Ocean, located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel. It shares maritime borders with Madagascar and Mayotte to the southeast, Tanzania to the northwest, Mozambique to the west, and the Seychelles to the northeast. The state consists of three major islands and numerous smaller islands.
Comoros is among the countries with naturally occurring wild coffee. Since the early twentieth century, it has been producing coffee beans both for its local communities and for export, but currently faces low coffee production compared to its industry during the twentieth century.
Comoros Coffee Growing History
Coffee farming in Comoros began with the plantations established by French businessmen in 1912. While slavery was supposedly forbidden at the time, coffee, cocoa, and spices were grown by forced labours.
After the country declared independence in 1975, many of the established plantations were abandoned. It was only recently, in June 2018, that a pilot project was initiated to revive the coffee and cocoa industry within the country.
Comoros Coffee Farming
Since Comoros is made up of multiple islands, it offers a hotspot of biodiversity. It is also, however, one of the poorest countries in the world, and as such 70-80% of Comorians are small-scale farmers, with their livelihood dependent upon rain-fed crops for subsistence. Currently, its smallholder farms are facing water shortages due to erratic and reduced rainfall, which it is seeking to solve with the implementation of rainwater harvesting devices. This is essential for Comoros’ cultivation of robusta varietals, which require more water than Arabica.
As a whole, the Comoros islands have been using an average of 600 hectares for coffee farming.
The climate in Comoros is generally tropical. Its rainy season lasts from mid-November to mid-April, and is followed by a dry season from June to October. Its rainy season is characterised by hot, humid weather and frequent storms. Average temperatures are 27°C and precipitation ranges from 200-250 mm. The dry season offers lower humidity and temperatures that average to around 24°C. The annual rainfall ranges between 1000 to 5000 mm, and western regions of Comoros are more exposed to monsoons.
Comoros greatly benefits from its terroir: the complete natural environment in which its produce grows. This includes soil, topography, and climate.
The Comoros islands are rich in volcanic soil, which offers a multitude of benefits for coffee production. Volcanic soil is formed by tephra, a mixture of volcanic ash and rock fragments that break up over time and deposit layers of minerals such as potassium, boron, iron, and zinc into the ground. Another benefit is that the soil is light and fluffy, which allows for better drainage and prevents water logging.
Coffee in Comoros is grown and harvested in the shade of banana and coconut trees, which, along with the sloping geography of the Karthala volcano, offers a natural protection from the sun’s rays. Some of its wild coffee crops are not harvested on farms, but are instead foraged for cherries where they occur naturally.
Comoros Coffee Production Regions
The main islands of Comoros are Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli. Grande Comore, also known as Njazidja, is the largest island in the Comoros nation, made up of two shield volcanoes. This not only offers ideal soil quality, but also acts as natural shade to protect the coffee crops.
Comoros Coffee Types and Varietals
Comoros is home to wild Coffea species that are endemic to the archipelago. One such crop is Coffea humblotiana (also known as ‘Caféir de Humblot’), a large coffee plant that grows exclusively on the island of Grande Comore, where it is harvested and consumed by its population. This coffee was discovered in 1885 and mainly grows in the seasonally dry tropical biomes of the Comoros islands. It can be found in humid forests between 600-1000 metres above sea level. It is classified as endangered by the IUCN red list of threatened species due to local expansion of agriculture. Outside collection, less than 110 less trees may survive in the wild. The species is therefore in need of conservation and support to revive its presence on this island.
Caféir de Humblot has a positive reputation, with a good colour and smell during roasting. An interesting characteristic of the plant is that there is a complete absence of caffeine in its seeds and leaves, which is due to the lack of the caffeine synthase gene.
Apart from the naturally growing Coffea humblotiana, farms on the Comoros islands cultivate primarily robusta varietals. Robusta is a sturdier crop and produces higher yield.
Comoros Coffee Flavour Profile
Coffea humblotiana is known to have good taste, colour and smell during roasting. Its flavour profile includes complex, deep, earthy notes, similar to Moka varietals. It offers a slight bitterness, though the flavour is noted to be very attractive and original.
Comoros Coffee Harvest Date
Coffee produced in the Comoros is ready for harvesting during its cooler, dry season which lasts from May and ends around October.
Comoros Coffee Annual Production
Comoros produces 133 tons of green coffee per year. This small-scale production is mainly consumed by its local population, due to prioritisation of other crops that feed and support the country. Its coffee is produced locally and typically responds to demand with the rest being imported from other countries.
Comoros Coffee Annual Export Volume
Comoros is counted as no. 63 in the world’s coffee production. Although it is included as one of the country’s agricultural exports, it has a low export volume.
Development and the Future of the industry
The coffee industry in Comoros could potentially be bolstered through developing and cultivating drought resistant coffee plants as well as encouraging a healthy production environment.
In 2018, the Vice Presidency in charge of the Ministry of the economy of Comoros organised a meeting with cocoa and coffee farmers as well as experts to develop a revival strategy for coffee cultivation. This is due to the abandonment of many of the crops. Here, they developed a pilot project scheduled for June 2018.
The pilot programme aimed to support coffee cultivation in the country and had the potential of creating new jobs and encouraging high economic value of its crops. This programme was said to involve developing 3 of the islands of Comoros, with aims to create a 1000 hectare pilot project in July 2018. As part of the programme, there were aims to make a Comorian coffee label, according to Vice-President Djaffar Ahmed Said Hassani. This will offer a source of wealth, though funds and donors would be required to get things started. It is unreported how, or if the project was ever launched.
The islands that constitute Comoros offer the perfect conditions for growing coffee. Its history involves the presence of wild coffee that is endemic to its islands.
Most of Comoros’ coffee is produced for its local population, but recent intervention by its government looks toward a promising future for its coffee industry. This very original coffee has the potential to succeed in the global market with the help of new farming methods, and the establishment of an effective coffee label.