Eswatini is a landlocked country located in the southern region of Africa. Formally known as Swaziland, it was officially renamed as the Kingdom of Eswatini in 2018 to celebrate 50 years of independence. It is bordered by Mozambique to the northeast and almost encompassed by South Africa to its north, west, south, and southeast.
While it is one of the smallest countries in Africa, it has a very diverse topography and climate. Eswatini has a cool mountainous region to the west of the country, hot dry lowlands to the east and a middle range between these two regions.
Eswatini is considered a developing country with a lower-middle-income economy. It is a member of the Southern African Customs Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. The country’s main local trading partner is South Africa, while overseas trading partners include the United States and the European Union. Though most of Eswatini's employment is provided by its agricultural and manufacturing sectors, there is civil unrest in the country which has been affecting all facets of its development, including agriculture, and as a consequence, coffee cultivation.
Eswatini Coffee Growing History
Due to the developing status of Eswatini, its land is primarily farmed for crops that support and feed its local communities. Since coffee can only be harvested once a year, crops with higher yields are favoured, leaving smallholder farms to constitute the predominant source of coffee production.
Some of the earliest traces of coffee farming in Eswatini can be found in the north of the country in the Hhohho region. A farm on the northern Piggs Peak has a record of coffee crops being grown during 1961, stating that both arabica and robusta had been experimented with. Some of the first seeds brought to Piggs Peak farm were of Ethiopian origin.
More recently, the agricultural industry has attempted to expand, in response to the drastic levels of unemployment in the country. Through the development of the coffee industry in Eswatini, proponents are aiming to support and spread a coffee-drinking culture around the country. This in turn can also bolster more interest in the sector and attract more workers.
As of late, Mabuda farm, located in the eastern Lowveld, has been developing its coffee farm and offering tours of its estate. Their coffee nurseries have been around since the 1930s, and currently, the business is making efforts to increase the quality of its coffee by partnering with international companies.
Eswatini Coffee Farming
Eswatini is afflicted with droughts and periodic flooding, which has historically caused many problems for its farming industry. In addition to this, the land is subject to overgrazing from the country’s significant livestock numbers, which depletes the overall quality of the soil.
Despite these problems, some parts of Eswatini are still able to successfully produce good quality coffee.
As one would imagine, Eswatini's Lowveld is located at a lower altitude compared to other parts of the country, providing a warmer climate than other regions, and thus a more suitable environment for coffee cultivation. Average temperatures in this area range from 8°C to 27°C in winter, and 18°C to 32°C in summer. Its wet summer season is between October and March, during which storms are common, and heavy rainfall provides suitable conditions for coffee cultivation.
It is no surprise then that smallholder coffee farms in Eswatini’s Lowveld are home to rich soil that is perfect for growing coffee. These local farms promote biodiversity and support their communities.
In the northern Hhohho region, indigenous trees provide a natural canopy over planted coffee seeds. This shades the seedlings, thereby protecting them from overexposure to the sun. Coffee farming in this region currently uses 2 hectares of land for cultivation, with aim of expanding the operation up to 10 hectares.
Eswatini Coffee Production Regions
Smallholder coffee farms are found in the eastern Lowveld and Northern Middleveld regions.
The previously mentioned Mabuda Farm is found in the town of Siteki, which is located in Eswatini’s Lowveld. It is located at an altitude of 619m. It is also one of Eswatini's earliest colonial settlements.
What is usually considered 'high-quality' coffee is often grown at higher altitudes, between 1000-1800m. Lowveld coffee therefore may not appease international coffee connoisseurs but does satisfy local communities. It also offers the possibility of exporting to enthusiasts that would like to taste the nuances of flavour and texture in a beverage made from Eswatini beans.
The Hhohho region is in the northwestern part of Eswatini. Its altitude averages 700m and has a temperate highland tropical climate with dry winters and rainy summers.
Eswatini Coffee Types and Varietals
Plantations in Piggs Peak in Eswatini's northwestern Hhohho region began by using both robusta and arabica varietals. One of the first successful crops harvested here was an Ethiopian arabica bush. Since then, the farm has experimented with seeds from Kenya and Uganda.
While robusta crops are considered to be of lower quality, they are able to survive lower altitudes. This suits the geography of Eswatini and also produces a higher yield. It is likely that robusta is used in the eastern Lowveld regions of Eswatini.
Eswatini Coffee Flavour Profile
Coffee from Eswatini is known for its soft flavours with hints of jasmine. If the coffee is produced at lower altitudes it will have more of a bitter taste. For the finer coffees grown further up north, a cup can be expected to have slight floral notes with berry undertones.
Eswatini Coffee Harvest Date
Eswatini’s harvesting season usually dates from the beginning of March onwards.
Eswatini Coffee Annual Production
Due to Eswatini's coffee industry consisting mainly of smallholder farms, annual production is difficult to trace. Most of its coffee is produced for its own communities and therefore consumed locally.
Eswatini Coffee Annual Export Volume
There is little international trade of coffee grown in Eswatini. In 2020 it exported £4.03k in coffee, making it the 166th largest exporter of coffee in the world. This year, coffee was the 563rd most exported product in Eswatini. The main destinations of exports were Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Czechia, and UAE. It appears Eswatini is importing more coffee than it is exporting.
Supporting Smallholder Farms
There has recently been support for Swazi coffee startups, including training being given to farmers. With rising unemployment at crisis levels, a healthy coffee industry provides jobs for eager job seekers. Such opportunities provide education invaluable skills for workers as well as aid in the country’s job market.
Farms in Piggs Peak have been aiming to start an out-grower programme that encourages growth and sourcing from nearby farms. They also have aims of roasting their coffee and selling their product to a wider market.
Eswatini’s coffee industry currently consists of smallholder farms that supply for their local communities. This is due to a variety of reasons, including a less-than-ideal climate, and land being taken up by alternate farming enterprises.
The farms that are currently active, such as Mabuda to the east and Piggs Peak to the north, have small output but are beginning to upgrade their facilities due to a dire job market, and international interest.
Overall, while Eswatini offers very little in the way of an international coffee market, it has the potential for a lot of growth. Its inclusion in the international market would allow enthusiasts to enjoy the coffee it produces while aiding in its economic growth.