With increasing use of mechanization and other new technologies like selective crop breeding techniques and irrigation technology, the world’s top two coffee producers, Brazil and Vietnam, are achieving productivity growth that outstrips rivals in places such as Colombia, Central America and Africa.They are set to tighten their grip.
A towering machine rumbles through the fields in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, engulfing whole coffee trees and shaking free beans that are collected by conveyor belts in its depths.This automatic harvester is one of several innovations that have cut production costs to a level that few who use traditional, labor-intensive methods can match.
Farmer bought his harvesting machine for around 600,000 reais ($155,600) and is paying the agricultural supplies company with coffee, delivering 400 bags a year over four years. This kind of bartering is common in Brazilian farming.One such machine in Brazil replaces dozens of people in the field. Even with financing and fuel bills, farmers and machine manufacturers say there is a reduction of 40% to 60% on harvesting costs.
According to coffee traders and analysts – A plunge in global coffee prices in recent months, to their lowest levels in 13 years, has begun to trigger a massive shake-out in the market in which only the most efficient producers will thrive.
Rival producers elsewhere in the world are increasingly likely to be driven to the margins, unable to make money from a crop they have grown for generations. Some are already turning to alternative crops while others are abandoning their farms completely.
“Brazil and Vietnam have had consistent increases in productivity, other countries have not,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, citing advances in mechanization, selective crop breeding techniques and irrigation technology.
In Colombia and Central America, coffee is typically grown on hillsides where mechanization is more difficult, and hand-picking cherries has kept production costs relatively high. The African sector, meanwhile, is dominated by small-scale farmers often unable to raise the capital needed for new techniques.
Brazil and Vietnam now produce more than half the world’s coffee, up from less than a third 20 years ago, and the proportion is rising, U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates show.
Leading producer Brazil alone accounts for over a third of global supply. In a clear sign of increased efficiency, it reported a record crop of 62 million bags last year and is expected to produce another record in 2020, the next on-year in the country’s biennial production cycle – despite the fact the coffee-planting area has been falling for the last six years.
Vietnam is also regularly setting production records while, by contrast, in Colombia the largest ever crop was harvested in the early 1990s and in Guatemala nearly two decades ago, USDA data shows.
In countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, growers who are increasingly abandoning farms are swelling the ranks of migrants trying to enter the United States.