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Gabon's Coffee Renaissance: The Resurgence of Robusta Production

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

The Gabonese Republic is located in West Africa, bordered by the Republic of the Congo on the south and east, Cameroon at the north, and Equatorial Guinea to the northwest. To its west is the Gulf of Guinea, which is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean.


Gabon is abundant in natural resources and high quality arable land. Foreign investment has made it one of the more prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Because 86% of Gabon’s small 1.8 million inhabitants live in major urban centres, there is lower agricultural production in the country compared to its neighbours.


Gabon Coffee Growing History


Prior to 1960, small village farms and plantations in Gabon were introducing cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, and palm oil to their agricultural portfolio. However, between 1981 and 2012, Gabon lost 92% of its harvest area due to the government’s decision to refocus its prospects into the oil and mineral industry. On top of that, Gabon’s coffee industry declined after worldwide coffee prices dropped significantly between 2000-2004. This resulted in many farmers moving to urban areas. Farms were abandoned and neglected and the coffee industry in Gabon plummeted.


During the early 2000s, initiatives were set up to support and promote Gabon’s coffee industry, but due to little government support, this has not seen much success. Gabon’s government has instead been continuing its support of the country’s rich mineral and oil reserves because they generate a lot of the country’s income.


As an interesting side note, ground coffee is used as a spice in Gabon, adding a distinctive flare to local cuisine.


Gabon Coffee Farming


Coffee from Gabon is known to have a rich and diverse flavour. This is largely thanks to its tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil.


Gabon’s wet season is between October and May. Average rainfall is around 200-250mm. Temperatures are high and relatively constant, averaging at 25-27ºC around coastal lowlands, and 22-25ºC inland. January to April is usually the hottest season.


While this country reaps the benefits of Gabonese climate, its elevation is rather low. The country stands at an average of 377 m.a.s.l. This is completely fine for growing robusta, but arabica would certainly struggle at such a low altitude.


Gabon Coffee Production Regions


Gabon is separated into nine provinces, many of which grow coffee.


Haut-Ogooué, named after the Ogooué River, lies in the south-easternmost part of the country. This province is Gabon’s top region for coffee production. Soil near the ancient volcanic Batéké Plateau offers a healthy foundation for coffee growing, reaching altitudes between 550 to 830 m.a.s.l.


Ogooué-Lolo is slightly southeast of central Gabon and is slightly more populated than other provinces. This area is densely populated with forestry and fertile land for farming.


Ogooué-Ivindo is the north-easternmost province in Gabon. It is sparsely populated and contains thousands of square kilometres of rainforest. The area is biologically rich, with 1500 recorded plant species, ideal for biodiversity.


The Ngounié province is located in South central Gabon. Its Steep sloping mountains offer higher altitudes and rich farmland.


Woleu-Ntem is to the north of the country and is mainly an agricultural area that benefits from an abundance of water thanks to the Woleu and Ntem rivers that cross run through the province.


It’s clear to see that there’s a lot of opportunities for coffee production in Gabon. Some areas even benefit from the presence of volcanic soil, which is great for improving the flavours of any coffee grown and processed.


Gabon Coffee Types and Varietals


Due to the country’s low altitude, coffee farms in Gabon mainly cultivate the hardy robusta varietal, and there is little evidence of other varietals being grown in this country.


The industry would need to really focus on its robusta farming and processing if it intended to succeed on the global market, since this varietal is less favourable compared to the arabica varietal.


Gabon Coffee Flavour Profile


Coffee from Gabon is known to be well rounded and balanced. High quality robusta produced from this country is known to have a diverse flavour profile. Tasting notes generally include a chocolate earthiness with slight bitter notes typical of beans produced from the robusta varietal.

A cup of Gabonese Robusta coffee is suitable for morning brews or those seeking a perky boost.


Gabon Coffee Annual Production


Officially, Gabon’s annual production has recently been very low. According to the ICO (International Coffee Organisation), 2019/20 saw only 60 tonnes being produced in the country.


However, ICO’s findings may not be fully representative of Gabon’s annual coffee production. This is because a lot of its coffee is produced by small farms, some of which are then supported by small and medium enterprises.


There is definitely room available for further coffee farming, as Gabon has roughly 5 million hectares of fertile land available.


Gabon Coffee Annual Export Volume


Following data created by ICO, Gabon has officially recorded little to no coffee exports in the past couple of years.


While there was some trade in the past, in 2020 Gabon was found to have only exported $78 worth of coffee, all of which went to Belgium.


Interestingly, there have been some very optimistic projections made by Gabon regarding coffee exports in the next decade. Figures of around $81.42 millions worth of coffee have been discussed. While it is very unlikely exports could reach these figures, it implies that there is certainly an interest in Gabonese coffee production.


Development and Potential


As Gabon entered the twenty-first century, there was a lot of interest in reviving its coffee sector. For example, ACRAM (Robusta Coffee Agency of Africa and Madagascar), an international non-profit association, was set up to bring private and public operators together for the development of robusta production. The Gabonese coffee scene has been a target of this association.


Part of ACRAM’s aim included supporting young people and women who are interested in the coffee industry. Their teaching ranges all the way from coffee crop to cup, essentially moulding potential learners into proficient barista-roasters.


Such development schemes encourage the consumption of locally produced and processed coffee too, while also improving the quality of the finished product. Doing so will improve its chances of success on the global market.


Another mode of support has been from Caistab. It is an initiative that aims to revitalise Gabon’s coffee industry. During 2016, around $334,000 was made available to buy from yearly harvests. This was part of a wider plan to displace funds that would otherwise be used for the oil industry. Along with supporting the coffee sector, this would also support over 3000 farmers.


Conclusion


The Gabonese coffee industry must sadly compete with governmental focus on more lucrative industries such as mineral and oil. This is detrimental to the country’s potential coffee industry. It appears that some efforts have been made to support the coffee production in Gabon, but lack of recent exports imply that this money is only prospectively inflating value.


Gabon has all of the natural resources to prove the value of its coffee scene on the global market. With plenty of fertile land to work with, mineral rich volcanic soil, and two harvest seasons.


If efforts are made to further support its industry, Gabonese robusta could be appealing to the global coffee community seeking an abundance of a well-balanced and rounded cup of coffee.


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