The Seychelles is a country made up of 115 small islands situated in the Indian Ocean and located off the coast of East Africa. With a land mass of just 450 square kilometres and a population of less than 100,000 people, the Seychelles is both the African continent’s smallest country and its least populated. Tourism and fishing are the main sources of employment, with almost half the population working in these sectors. Both sectors also contribute greatly to the country’s GDP and over 90% of the Seychelles exports are fish and seafood.
Categorised as a Small Island Developing State, the Seychelles faces a variety of geographical, environmental and economic challenges. The country is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and changing weather patterns intensified by climate change. Limited economic alternatives also expose the country to external economic shocks, such as those caused by financial crises and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whilst coffee was historically cultivated on the islands, it appears that this is no longer the case. The once previous importance of agricultural commodities for export and national income has now been overtaken by alternative industries.
The history of agriculture and coffee in Seychelles
The Seychelles has a rather short history of human habitation. For hundreds of years, the islands were known to, and had been visited by, Arab traders and later, Portuguese and British explorers. The first humans, however, only settled on the islands following French colonisation in the mid-18th century.
During French rule, the foundations of the islands’ plantation economy (which was reliant on slave labour) were established. From 1780 onwards, hundreds of slaves arrived in the Seychelles every year from mainland Africa and from Madagascar. Cotton, which had first been exported in 1796, was the Seychelles’ primary export from 1802 onwards, but Seychelles also cultivated coffee and spices, such as cinnamon, vanilla, pepper and patchouli.
Control of the Seychelles was passed over to England following the Treaty of Paris in 1814. In 1835, the abolition of slavery came into force in all British colonies, and 6,521 slaves were set free within the Seychelles. Meanwhile, cotton production in the Seychelles became economically impractical due to increased competition from the US. Many plantation owners attempted the switch to sugarcane cultivation, but soon found that the labour-intensive sugar industry could not be sustained without slaves.
The less labour-intensive coconut farming became the dominant crop and source of export earnings from the 1840s onwards. By the 1860s coconut oil was virtually the Seychelles’ only export.
Does Seychelles grow coffee?
Coffee production has historically taken place in the Seychelles for generations, however, these days most farmers dedicate themselves to the production of fruit and vegetables as well as to raising livestock.
Various factors make any kind of agriculture and farming generally rather challenging in the Seychelles. There is a shortage of suitable agricultural land and the country’s small population size means that there is a limited labour force. In addition, increasingly extreme rainfall patterns alongside sea level changes have led to soil erosion and degradation.
Coffee Types and Varietals in Seychelles
Liberica coffee is the species most commonly associated with the history of coffee production in the Seychelles. Several historical documents point towards the cultivation and success of Liberica coffee in the late 1800s.
Native to Liberia and commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia, Liberica coffee plants are resilient and can be grown at higher temperatures and lower altitudes than the more popular Arabica coffee. Liberica cherries grow on tall trees while their beans are almond-shaped and large.
The Seychelles’ coffee industry
The Seychelles does not export coffee and instead relies on coffee imports to meet even domestic needs. In 2017, the Seychelles Trading Company launched its second coffee product for the domestic market. With an instant coffee already available, the company introduced Seycafe, which they made available in beans, capsules and ground coffee. The product is made up of a blend of beans from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Tanzania.