Zambia, the large, landlocked country squarely in the center of southern Africa, is not a typical African coffee origin. Zambia coffee is mainly grown on high, semi-arid plains rather than on mountainous or hilly terrain. Coffees are produced by large farms rather than by cooperatives of small holders, although these farms tend to be progressive in their environmental and socioeconomic practices. Coffee is processed using meticulous centralized wet processing. Trees are a rather schizophrenic mix of heirloom Bourbon-related varieties and the disease-resistant, notoriously cup-neutral hybrid Catimor.
The entire preceding paragraph could be couched in the past tense rather than the present, however. Zambia’s approximately six decades of coffee history have been a harrowing story of success achieved, disaster endured and, only recently, modest signs of recovery.
Coffee came late to Zambia, in the 1940s. In the 1980s coffee began competing with maize, sorghum and millet on the high plains of the country, and by 2000 Zambia’s reputation as a dependable source of cleanly wet-processed, high grown coffee with at least a hint of Kenya-like cup intrigue was well-established. Coffee authorities were optimistically engaged in promoting quality by encouraging the planting of Bourbon-related trees, as well as pursuing policies intended to engage more small-holding farmers in coffee production.
And Then the Drought
Production reached a peak in 2005–06. However, in that same year a major drought devastated large swathes of the country and the following year coffee production plummeted by nearly 50%. Since then Zambia’s already diminished coffee industry has continued to decline, to the point that in 2014–15 production stood at only 2% of its peak, amounting to a minuscule trickle of coffee. In part the reason for the sudden and seemingly permanent drop in coffee production may be that large-scale farmers, faced with the threat of drought, had the option to return to growing other crops that entail less risk, less labor and less investment than a slow-to-mature specialty crop like coffee.
Hope for a Revival.
As I write, however, a very modest coffee revival is taking place in fits and starts, with one famous set of family farms stabilizing production around the famous SL28 variety. But the bad weather and attendant bad news continue.
Zambia Coffee Ratings and Review
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