Cof­fee buzz has room for growth: ex­perts

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SU PHYO WIN su­phy­owin@mm­times.com

In­dus­try ex­perts say the po­ten­tial for home-grown cof­fee to be shipped around the world is “huge” but the lo­cal sec­tor re­mains un­der­de­vel­oped.

LOOK out Colom­bia. And stand back, Brazil: Myan­mar cof­fee is com­ing.

Though cof­fee has been grown in this coun­try for 100 years, pro­duc­tion vol­umes were low and the qual­ity was hid­den un­der a bushel. But now in­ter­na­tional afi­ciona­dos are start­ing to take Myan­mar se­ri­ously as a pro­ducer of first-class joe.

Marcelo A Pereira Mag­nere, a small­holder ex­pert from USAID, will be help­ing to bring about this trans­for­ma­tion through a ru­ral devel­op­ment con­cern, Win­rock In­ter­na­tional.

“I started work­ing more than a year ago in Ywarn­gan town­ship, Shan State. The idea was to pro­mote in­cen­tives for the cof­fee in­dus­try in Myan­mar,” he said. “The in­dus­try has a lot of po­ten­tial but it’s never been achieved. So when the cof­fee is ex­ported, it can’t com­pete with larger-vol­ume pro­duc­ers like Brazil and Colom­bia.”

Other pro­duc­ers of­fer larger vol­ume at a lower price. “But Myan­mar cof­fee is ex­cel­lent, one of the best I’ve ever tried any­where in the world,” he said, adding that so far, no­body has suf­fi­ciently ap­pre­ci­ated the coun­try’s po­ten­tial. Last July, for the first time in decades, 40 met­ric tonnes of Myan­mar cof­fee was ex­ported to the United States.

“Every­one loved its amaz­ing qual­ity. And this year, we’re work­ing with five times as many farm­ers and will be able to ex­port five times as much,” he said.

Un­til the 1980s, cof­fee was val­ued mainly as a source of pick-me-up caf­feine. But now, qual­ity, aroma and flavour mat­ter. Stan­dards have risen as drinkers recog­nise the real thing.

“Peo­ple started to pay more for good cof­fee,” said Mr Mag­nere. But Myan­mar didn’t re­spond. “They didn’t know they could ac­cess this mar­ket,” he said, say­ing it was time to in­tro­duce qual­ity lo­cal prod­uct to cof­fee drinkers.

“Lo­cal con­sumers don’t recog­nise the qual­ity and any­way, they don’t want to pay for it. Peo­ple need to un­der­stand that it’s not just about caf­feine. Over the next few years, as tastes be­come more re­fined, peo­ple will be will­ing to pay more.”

Com­peti­tors like Brazil, Viet­nam and Colom­bia pro­duce much larger ton­nages and so en­joy a larger share of the world mar­ket, he said.

“In terms of vol­ume, Myan­mar isn’t sig­nif­i­cant. They have to com­pete on grounds of qual­ity. Myan­mar cof­fee is bet­ter qual­ity than Brazil, Colom­bia and Viet­nam,” he said, say­ing the lo­cal prod­uct ri­valled that of Kenya and Ethiopia.

“Qual­ity is no ac­ci­dent,” he warned. “We’re fo­cus­ing on mak­ing the in­dus­try aware of its po­ten­tial, and its op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

The pres­i­dent of the Myan­mar Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion (MCA), U Ye Myint, said the two key re­quire­ments were spe­cial­ity cof­fee and value-added.

“We have peo­ple in­ter­ested in Europe, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and in the US. USAID is fund­ing Win­rock In­ter­na­tional, and MCA is try­ing to de­velop the whole value chain,” he said, adding that the po­ten­tial mar­ket was “huge”.

“The gov­ern­ment has a role in main­tain­ing peace and sup­port­ing the devel­op­ment of the in­dus­try,” he said, with spe­cial­ity cof­fee sell­ing for up to US$7000 a tonne, twice the price of or­di­nary joe.

Peo­ple had to be per­suaded that it was worth switch­ing from the in­stant brew to the real thing, on grounds of qual­ity, or even health.

Daw Lay Lay Myint, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ge­nius Cof­fee, said she looked for­ward to the day when cof­fee branded “Made in Myan­mar” could pen­e­trate the global mar­ket.

“We can’t let peo­ple just keep drink­ing in­stant cof­fee mix,” she said. “We can pro­duce very high-qual­ity cof­fee, es­pe­cially in Shan State, but no­body can af­ford it. We’re fo­cus­ing on qual­ity.”

On Oc­to­ber 22, a lit­tle-no­ticed ex­hi­bi­tion of Ara­bica cof­fee in Yangon show­cased to week­end shop­pers just what cof­fee from Myan­mar could be like.

Photo: Sup­plied

Work­ers sort cof­fee beans in Shan State’s Mya Zedi Vil­lage, Ywarn­gan town­ship.

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