Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Does Mozambique Grow Coffee?
In the world of East African coffee, Mozambique is unlikely to be a country on the tips of many peoples’ tongues at the cupping table; general knowledge of the country’s producer status is lacking in the world of coffee professionals.
This is because, unlike many fellow East African nations, Mozambique has never been known for having a rich coffee growing history. For instance, it bears little resemblance to its neighbour Zimbabwe, where the controversial expulsion of white coffee farmers by the Mugabe regime led to the collapse of a once revered specialty coffee sector. Nor does the country embody a historic culture of domestic coffee consumption, as is the case in Ethiopia and Kenya, where daily coffee rituals constitute a key form of social interaction for the people. So where does Mozambique fit into the world of coffee, and why should we be paying attention to it?
Mozambique’s Coffee Growing History
Coffee was first brought to Mozambique by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, although it remained a relatively small operation, the colonists instead choosing Angola for commercial coffee growing, with Mozambique being reserved primarily for tea.
During its colonial occupation, Mozambique was mostly known for robusta coffee production, and by the time civil war broke out in 1977 following the declaration of independence in 1975, it produced around 1000 metric tons per year. This quantity declined significantly throughout the fifteen years of war, and UN statistics show that by 2019 only 827 tones of green coffee was successfully gathered by Mozambique farmers.
Although total coffee yields are forecast to grow in Mozambique by an average of 16.77% per annum between 2015 and 2025, the current numbers are still so negligible that the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) doesn’t even report its production and export volumes. Even so, during the last decade things have started to change, and for the first time ever the country is beginning to bring a high quality arabica offering to market.
Coffee Prices in Mozambique
With production currently being so small, price data for Mozambique coffee isn’t easy to ascertain. However recent estimates put the total value of the roasted coffee market in Mozambique at $4.3 million USD in 2015, calculated at retail prices. By 2025 the market is forecast to reach $32.34 million USD in 2025 using the same metric.
Where is Mozambique’s Coffee Grown?
Though colonialism influenced much of Mozambique’s patchy coffee growing history, some of the trials and tribulations can also be put down to environmental conditions. Unlike the other major coffee producing nations in the region, Mozambique’s climate is not ideal for arabica growing; its coastal location means that it is regularly exposed to severe weather patterns such as tropical storms and cyclones. Since March 2019 the country has experienced four tropical cyclones and one major tropical storm that severely affected farmland and farmers alike, disrupting years of hard work.
The most successful region of arabica cultivation in Mozambique so far has been in the Gorongosa National Park, a scheme pioneered by The Gorongosa Project. An initiative that was established in 2008 as a 20 year agreement between Mozambique’s government and the Carr Foundation, with goals of research, development, conservation, and sustainability.
One of the current programs, established in 2019, is mainly concerned with using coffee growing as a means of reforestation and conservation in Gorongosa, which has had its forests reduced significantly by the ‘slash and burn’ agricultural practice of chopping down vegetation, burning it, and using the ashes as nutrients for the soil underneath. Over 600 local farmers have invested in the project so far, with coffee being grown on around 200 hectares of farmland. Growers are being encouraged to plant native trees as well as domestic food crops, such as bananas, pineapples and piri piri chillis, as a way of increasing biodiversity and shade, as well as creating employment in the region. Matty Bishop, a roasting partner of Our Gorongosa, has recently commented that,
“coffee could produce 10 times more income than maize or other subsistence crops grown by local farmers. It produces much better income and it encourages farmers to re-grow the rainforest. It is a win-win development for the farmers and the environment.”
Although coffee production in Gorongosa is still very much in its infancy, the finished product produced in the region has so far been well received. Gorongosa’s high altitudes and steady rainfall, combined with both natural and tree shade, has produced lots scored by Q Graders in the low eighties. This has attracted specialty buyers from the US and the UK, and during the first quarter of 2021 eight tonnes of Gorongosa green coffee was exported out of Mozambique. Whilst still a relatively low production volume, the goal of Our Gorongosa is to produce 500 tonnes of coffee per year by 2029.
2021 also saw the first single origin coffee being made available from the region, described by the The Gorongosa Project website as ‘‘an elegant medium roast with notes of walnut, toast, and Meyer lemon.”
The progress made by The Gorongosa Project has been enough to attract significant international attention for Mozambique: one of the major international coffee players Nespresso has made a commitment to Mozambique arabica via its ‘Reviving Origins’ programme. More recently, at the other end of the spectrum, the The Gorongosa Project was nominated by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA ) for its 2022 Sustainability Awards.
A more recently established coffee growing operation in Mozambique is the Chimanimani national park, located in the West of the country on the border with Zimbabwe, who’s coffee production collapse in the early 2000s saw displaced farmers moving to Mozambique in search of outlets for their skills and knowledge.
The Agrotur project, founded in 2020, is an agroforestry project that is now the largest coffee plantation in the country. 100 organic Arabica coffee seedlings of five different varietals, introduced from Brazil and Zimbabwe, were initially planted in an experimental field in Chimanimani’s buffer zone, yielding 550kg of coffee in the project’s first year. Since then, a further 1.2 million coffee seedlings have been distributed to producers in the region, planted across 400 hectares. It is hoped that within 10 years at least 3000 farmers will be producing arabica coffee on 3,500 hectares of land.
The cherries are currently harvested by hand and sun dried before being exported, but plans to have a full production and roasting facility for domestic consumption are being considered. Chimanimani Coffee are currently the largest company operating in this area, and have ambitious plans to grow their operation, targeting $42 million in revenue by 2030.
Much like in Gorongosa, the aim is to restore areas of the forest that have been lost, in a hope of protecting the soil, flora and fauna of the national park. The income generated from coffee so far has helped local workers to improve their quality of life significantly: with better access to building materials, clothing, and essential items such as bicycles.
Despite these recent inroads into arabica, the coffee that Mozambique is perhaps most well-known for is the species Coffea Racemosa, also known as “Ibo Coffee” because of its primary growing region of Ibo Island, within the Quirimba Islands off Mozambique’s north-eastern shoreline. This is in addition to an 150km2 band of indigenous forest that stretches from northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to southern Mozambique.
Some claim that Racemosa coffee was first introduced by Arab traders in the eleventh century, pre-dating the arrival of the Portuguese. Whatever the case may be, the species was clearly embraced by the colonists, as in 1906 it received a Gold Medal Award in Lisbon because of its unique flavour and aroma.
Racemosa has been shown to be far more pest resistant than arabica, and unlike the arabica, grows easily in sandy soils with infrequent rainfall. Some success has also been achieved in hybridising Racemosa and Arabica, developments which may prove very useful as climate challenges to growing arabica continue to mount in the coming decades.
Perhaps the most unique quality of this species of coffee is its naturally low caffeine content, less than half of that found in arabica, and less than a quarter found in robusta. This has drawn the interest of major coffee players including Illycaffé, who in partnership with the Italian and Mozambican governments, have agreed to invest significant capital into the sustainable production of Racemosa.
The largest exporter of Racemosa in Mozambique is currently Cultivar Coffee. Cultivar harvests the small purple-black coffee cherries of Racemosa in November and December before bringing them to a central processing facility. During the 2021 harvest, Cultivar’s team focused on different experimental post-processing techniques to see what flavours could be brought out of these smaller and significantly less caffeinated beans. It is worth noting however that despite all of this, Cultivar’s production of Racemosa in terms of yield is still significantly behind that quantities of arabica coming out of Gorongosa and Chimanimani, with flavour profiles and cupping scores varying significantly.
When Is Mozambique’s Coffee Harvested?
In Mozambique the arabica coffee harvest takes place between April and September. Racemosa is harvested later in the year and across a shorter period between November and December.
The Future Of Coffee in Mozambique?
So what are the challenges for coffee in Mozambique, and what might the future hold? In addition to the ongoing issues of global climate change and extreme weather, the country is still adjusting to its status as a democratic society following the civil war that lasted from 1977 to 1992. The period between 2013 and 2019 saw a number of contested elections, with a low-level resistance being staged by the opposition REMANO party in Mozambique’s northern and western regions. To add to the country’s woes, Islamist militants known as Al Shabab have terrorized regions in the north-east, including the city of Palma and the island of Vamizi, both of which are nearby to the production areas associated with the native Racemosa coffee. As of 2021 over 2,500 people had died as a result of this conflict, and over 700,000 had been displaced from their homes.
Being located much further south, the principal areas of arabica production, Gorongosa and Chimanimani, have been far more immune to the recent troubles. However, the scars left by past conflicts are still very visible, particularly in Gorongosa, as during the civil war the REMANO military headquarters was located here, within which time over 90% of the animals in the national park were slaughtered for food and materials. The park nevertheless became a symbol of the peace negotiations between government and REMANO forces, and in 2014 both sides made a peace agreement at Gorongosa National Park.
There are a number of indicators that specialty grade arabica coffee will continue to emanate out of Mozambique in the immediate future. Although The Gorongosa Project was not successful in winning the SCA Sustainability Award this year, its inclusion amongst the nominees will certainly open some previously diverted eyes to the country’s potential as an origin of quality. In the short term, the specialty coffee world loves innovation, and Mozambique must use some of the momentum it has gained in recent years if it has any hope of propelling itself into the company of the coffee growing powerhouses in this region of Africa.
Mozambican Association of Coffee Growers (AMOCAFÉ)
With its launch event billed as ‘Celebrating The Power of Coffee’, the first Mozambican Association of Coffee Growers (AMOCAFÉ) was launched in November 2021. The aims of the organisation are the promotion and diversification of coffee species, as well as increasing the consumption and production of coffee in the country using sustainable actions and practices. For the first time in its history, Mozambique appears to be truly embracing its role as a quality coffee growing nation, and if current trends continue, it will hopefully soon become a regular fixture, both on the cupping table, as well as in the coffee shop.