Great coffee from Malawi

Like millions of people all over the world, I love coffee. And after numerous visits to Malawi over the past decade and a half, I have become a huge fan of Malawian coffee.

Last week, following my most recent visit, I returned home to Oslo, Norway with several packets of Satemwa Espresso and Mzuzu coffee, and I am convinced that Malawian coffee can compete with the very best in the world. The question is whether the industry is doing justice to its enormous potential. And if not, what can be done to further develop the coffee industry?

The global demand for coffee is rising. The International Coffee Organisation (ico.org) reports that world coffee exports in January 2019 amounted to over 184 000 metric tons, which was a 2.6 percent increase from January 2018.

The corresponding increase in Africa’s share of coffee exports was 1.2 percent, with the major exporters being Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Cameroon.

Malawi remains a small player and much of the recent discourse in the country has centred around inadequate supply to meet growing demands and the need for additional capital.

While some have urged the government to implement policies that provide greater incentives to producers, others have demanded a greater focus on technological innovation and more aggressive marketing on the global stage. A major concern for most coffee-producing nations is the threat posed by climate disruption, and Malawi is no exception.

The recent floods that have devastated large parts of the country and caused immense human suffering in the past week is a case in point. But given the fast pace of deforestation and high demand for charcoal, recurrent droughts are also constant threats. Many analysts, therefore, argue that a failure to address climate-related challenges and an overall lack of technological progress have undermined the ability of coffee- producing nations in Africa to remain globally competitive.

Although increasing exports ought to be prioritised, Malawi could also benefit from creating a larger domestic market for its coffee, which in turn would enable it to better tackle global price fluctuations.

Except Ethiopia, a café and coffee shop culture has generally not caught on in Africa, where tea is typically preferred. But Kenya’s Java House coffee chain has been a major success story and Cameroon is trying to promote more local consumption, beginning with public offices.

Coffee houses tend to flourish as a result of strong economic growth, increased tourism and a rise in the disposable income of citizens.

While I am delighted to hear that Starbucks is selling Malawian coffee in selected outlets in North America, I hope Malawians will soon also begin consuming more of their own great coffee at home.

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