National Coffee Congress seeks to overturn 30-year ban to reverse fortunes of rural farmers
Costa Rican could soon begin planting robusta crops for the first time in more than 30 years. The country’s, Agriculture Minister Felipe Arauz, is backing a lift on the ban in response to falling incomes in rural areas and increased threats to less-hardy Arabica crops from climate change and disease.
Costa Rica ceased robusta production in 1988 in an effort reap the higher market value of arabica varieties, typically more sought after for their superior flavour. The move is credited with establishing the Central-American nation’s reputation as one of the world’s best coffee producers, although it contributed less than 1% of global production in 2017.
Like many countries in the region, Costa Rican farmers were hit hard by an outbreak of roya in 2012-2013, when more than 60% of the total crop was affected by the fungus. Robusta crops are known to be roya resistant and tolerant of more frequent droughts and higher temperatures associated with climate change.
Some oppse the measure on the basis that robusta production could undermine Costa-Rica’s reputation as a producer of speciality coffee. The crop is also more associated with deforestation and land clearance as it favours direct sunlight, unlike shade-loving Arabica.
It is not the first time that the The National Coffee Congress for Costa Rica (ICAFE) has sought to overturn the ban. The group of industry and government representatives attempted a reversal in 2016 but failed to reach the two-thirds majority vote needed for approval.
After a fresh ICAFE resolution passed in February, Arauz confirmed the organisation would seek to establish robusta growing zones in the country. “It’s a decree for the cultivation of robusta in specific areas that the national coffee institute ICAFE will determine so there is no mixing of the varieties, including the post-harvest processes”, he told reporters. The motion will need to be ratified by the Costa Rican by President, Luis Guillermo Solis, before it takes effect.