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Coffee and Tea Reports from the Front Lines

Ugandan President Meets With NCA

New York - The president of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, recently met with NCA members in order to discuss the current condition of the country’s coffee industry. The main focus of the meeting revolved around the unique ways in which coffee is grown in Uganda and the contribution of these factors to the cost and quality of coffee production.

Henry Ngabirano, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, stated that the country currently produces about 4 million bags of both Arabica and Robusta coffee per year, the latter of which is indigenous to Uganda. The Ugandan Robusta is among the sweetest within this grade of coffee. It is also one of the only five areas in the world that grows certified organic Robusta.

Other characteristics of Ugandan Robusta, such as the fact that it is a mixed crop and shade grown, also play an integral role in not only keeping the cost of production low, but in creating a coffee that is distinct within the industry. The main contributing factor that keeps production costs at about $.20/lb is that the coffee is grown by smallholders. Being able to use family labor eliminates the need to have to pay workers for their services, therefore allowing each family farm to keep its profits.

However, whatever profits smallholders do make is very minimal. President Museveni voiced his concerns about this. The government is furthering their efforts to help the country’s coffee industry by embarking upon a program to plant 200 million coffee trees of a new variety. The goal of this project is to produce 8 million bags through increased yields and to therefore increase profits.

Ngabirano and President Museveni expressed their excitement over the expanding growth of cocoa crops in Uganda over the past five years. Representatives from the cocoa trade who were present at the meeting shared their belief that the best way to increase profits from cocoa as well as coffee sales is to remain consistent. A challenge arises when it comes to establishing that the product being sold is actually from the advertised area. A suggestion was made for the coffee industry to begin to follow an already established model that guarantees the quality of an agricultural commodity. Within the tobacco industry, there is an association that sets the grade for the product and the British Association of Tobacco will only buy tobacco through them. This technique sets a standard across the industry that allows the monitoring of product quality. If this model were to be adopted and adapted, in addition to everything else that is being done for Uganda’s coffee industry, it is believed that coffee quality could be certified and standardized, thus further improving both product and profit.

El Niño Discussed in Brazil
Brazil - In an event held recently in Santos organized by CM Capital Markets, the commodity branch of the ABN AMRO Bank group, three prominent Brazilian weather experts spoke on the climate pattern for this year’s Brazilian winter season. The event was also supported by ABECAFE, the association of Brazilian Coffee Exporters.

The theme of the meeting was, “The Consequences of El Niño on the Coffee Regions of Brazil.” The speakers were, Expedito Rebelp, INMET, The National Meteorology Institute, connected with the Ministry of Agriculture; Marcos Sanches, INPE, The National Institute of Special Research; and Carlos Magno, Climatempo, a private weather agency.

The three experts had three different opinions on the weather picture but all agreed that the El Niño this year was considered weak to moderate and probably would not create the damaging rains and drought problems that occurred during the record El Nino of 1997/98, which registered ocean temperatures 5° C above normal in the east Pacific.

Expedito Rebelo said he feels recent conditions of hot and dry weather since March over coffee country, plus other meteorological readings, indicate a climate pattern very similar to 1994. This pattern resulted in the doubly whammy of frosts in late June in Parana and early July in São Paulo and Minas Gerais. The other experts did not agree with Rebelo’s prediction, and Carlos Magno stated that he believed the El Niño phenomenon this year will create a climate barrier that will prevent the polar air masses to penetrate into the coffee belt. In any case, as Rebelo explained, El Niño is only “ a drop in the ocean,” and there are many other factors more powerful and preponderant in the formation of the climate of the world. - Harry C. Jones

Study Shows Tea May Strengthen Bones
Taiwan - Researchers in Taiwan may have found that tea-drinking over time may strengthen bones, reported the Associated Press recently. The benefits occurred in people who drank an average of nearly two cups daily of black, green or oolong tea for at least six years, said the researchers from National Cheng Kung University Hospital in Tainan, Taiwan.

Tea contains fluoride and chemical compounds known as flavenoids that include estrogen-like plant derivatives. Both may enhance bone strength, the researchers said.

Their study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, is based on surveys of 1,037 men and women aged 30 and older who were questioned about tea-drinking habits and took bone-mineral density tests. The researchers accounted for other factors affecting bone strength, including gender, age, body-mass index and lifestyle.

The highest overall bone-mineral density was found in people who said they had consumed green, oolong or black tea regularly for more than 10 years; their hip-bone density was 6.2% higher than in non-habitual tea drinkers. Habitual drinkers for six to 10 years had a hip-bone density 2.3% higher than in non-habitual tea drinkers, said Dr. Chih-Hsing Wu, a co-author. There were no significant differences between tea drinkers of one to five years and non-habitual drinkers. Similar results were found regardless of type of tea consumed.

Previous research on tea-drinking and bone strength is limited and has met with mixed results.

The Woes of the Guatemalan Coffee Cooperative
Guatemala - APECAN, a coffee-processing cooperative in San Pedro La Laguna will receive just 5% of the amount they received from last year’s coffee crop, reported the Guatemala Post. Ninety-five percent of their expected income has vaporized under the pressure of not only falling prices but also sharply reduced yields.

Earlier last year, at a town meeting for American citizens in Panajachel, U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell cautioned that the coming months were going to be difficult ones, especially in the surrounding area where tens of thousands of Guatemalans depend on coffee for some or all of their income. At the time, she was referring to slumping coffee prices, which were tending down towards their current level of less than half that of recent years. At the time she could have had no knowledge of yields from the as-yet unripened current year’s crop.

According to Luis*, a foreman at APECAN, a coffee processing cooperative in San Pedro La Laguna, this year’s crop is essentially all harvested and processed. He said that this year’s crop amounted to just 10% of last year’s. He estimates that the 80 or so cooperative members experienced yields of 1-2 hundredweight per cuerda, or on the average one tenth of normal yields. He attributed the low yields to the financial inability of the farmers to purchase low-cost fertilizers, and to some cases of unexplained blossom drop from the coffee trees.

For the past two years the government has imported fertilizer for distribution to small farmers. The Japanese government-supported program has suffered from alleged corruption and inefficiency. Last year a vice-minister of Agriculture resigned amid allegations of a missing $17 million in aid-related fertilizer. This year, the allocation to towns in rural areas around Atitlan was insufficient to meet needs. Many complain that when they went to buy their allocation of fertilizer, at prices up to 25% below market, they were told “there isn’t any more.”

Hammered by low yields and an inability to fertilize, the 80 APECAN farmers’ only remaining hope was dashed by the low world coffee price. Luis said that the paltry crop was sold this year to “foreign buyers” who truck it to Antigua where the last stage of processing is performed on the dried, parchment bearing coffee beans. One Antigua farmer sold his crop internationally in May at $1.29 a pound. This is almost triple the 45 cents a pound received by the Lake Atitlan cooperative, not accounting for the loss in weight through removing the parchment.

Asked why the coop didn’t sell its coffee directly to end consumers, Luis said, “You need permits from the authorities and we can’t get them.”

Man Falls Ill from Popular Tea Flavoring
New Zealand - A man drinking up to four liters of tea a day complained to his doctor of muscle cramps and a feeling of pressure in his eyes as well as blurred vision, shortly after switching to Earl Grey tea, reported The Dominion recently. A case study in the Lancet journal said that after five months he went back to pure black tea and the symptoms disappeared within a week. The study found that high consumption of tea flavored with bergamot essence - as in Earl Grey - can cause muscle cramps, involuntary twitches, burning or prickling feelings and blurred vision.

Tea & Coffee - July/August, 2002

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