Coffee research in Africa
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Coste, Rene. 1992. Coffee research in Africa. Spore 42. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45863
Professor René Coste is a member of the French Académie des Sciences d'Outre-mer and is also a founder and former Director of France's Institut de Recherche du Café, du Cacao et des autres plantes stimulants (IRCC). Rapid advances are currently...
Professor René Coste is a member of the French Académie des Sciences d'Outre-mer and is also a founder and former Director of France's Institut de Recherche du Café, du Cacao et des autres plantes stimulants (IRCC). Rapid advances are currently being made in the field of coffee research though certain branches, notably physiology and agronomic practices, are lagging behind. However, the application of research in the field in Africa is often hampered by a lack of political determination to modernize traditional production systems. In recent years agronomic research has made considerable progress and coffee has benefited from this, though there is still a long way to go in some areas. The most spectacular advances have been seen in the use of genetics to improve planting material. The campaign against disease and pests is constantly gaining ground, reinforced by recent knowledge of the insects themselves. But at the same time work on physiology and agronomic practice is insufficient, if not totally non-existent. It seems to me totally unjustifiable, that while genetics is revolutionizing coffee production, we still use the same methods of field trials which have been used for a century and a half in order to find the most appropriate application rates for NPK fertilizer. Likewise, there has been little technological progress in coffee processing (wet or dry methods). However, there have been technical improvements in reprocessing, mainly by the use of electronic grading machines. But I find it strange that there has been such a dearth of research on the use and value-enhancement of the by-products of coffee processing. It has to be said that the effect of research on development is most disappointing. What has happened in Côte d`Ivoire exemplifies this: at the highest level there is a resistance to anything which can be seen as an attack on so-called traditional methods, and this has proved an insurmountable and immovable barrier to applying the results of research. How can we expect any results when selected seedlings are interplanted haphazardly with foods crops in a disorganized field where the tending is insufficient. It is well known that in conditions like these any fertilizer application will be useless. Coffee bushes need pruning, they don't like too much shade and if they don't get the right conditions they will grow out of control and lose their lower and middle branches. Official yield figures are in the order of 1 50-200kg of coffee per hectare, but potentially a field station can produce ten times that amount, and perhaps even more on industrial-scale plantations. Harvesting, preparation and processing are even more problematic. For at least ten years now Robusta beans have been picked while they are still unripe in order to avoid the ripe fruits being stolen from the bushes, but this is a practice which goes against repeated warnings from scientists who have scientifically registered a loss of quality (reduced aroma) and taste when this is done. The growers dry the berries by laying them out in the sun, preferably on racks but usually on hard-packed ground, and rarely on cement strips. The coffee is often subjected to a regime of alternating sun and rain, which does not do it any good at all. Collection for the factories is so poorly organized that growers are often forced to keep the crop for long periods whereas they have no proper storage facilities. Finally they arrive at the dehusking plant. When a factory was built at Timbroko in Côte d'lvoire, research scientists, with the agreement of the management, installed five small computerized sampling units, with the objective of grading the growers according to the quality of coffee they delivered. These units have never worked, and have now been dismantled because, in the absence of a quality-based pricing policy, there was no point in grading the deliveries. We all know only too well what happens: large quantities of trash which is not legally exportable are bought cheap on the black-market. Research is pointless when the situation is so hopeless and the product is debased in this way, and not that relevant authorities have not been warned time and time again. It would be unreasonable to expect Robusta producing West African farmers to improve their production systems if they are not supported by a policy which recognizes the value and potential of high-quality coffees. There is no point in imposing the stringent controls applied to Arabica beans for Robusta, which is sought after for its aroma and its neutral, non-bitter taste. However, simpler regulations could be adopted. It is important that, if Robusta is ever to be valued at its worth, substandard batches and waste are strictly prohibited from export, and destroyed. I have written this because I am committed to African coffee-growing, and to safeguarding and improving the future of the small-scale growers. The views expressed are those of the author and do not | necessarily reflect those of CTA.