In order to increase productivity and improve the quality of Arabica coffee, which originated in the Arab world, by means of crop renewal and reinvigoration, the government of the state of EspÃrito Santo, in the Southeast of Brazil, launched the Renew Arabica Program.
The initiative will be implemented in 49 Brazilian cities, covering an area of approximately 190,000 hectares, in more than 20,000 small properties that house some 53,000 families.
Espírito Santo is the second largest coffee producer state in Brazil
"The effort should enable production of Arabica coffee in the state to achieve a historical leap: productivity should double, rising from 12 processed bags per hectare to 23 bags, and production should go from two to four million bags, with no expansion in planted area," says Gilmar Dadalto, CEO at the Espírito Santo State Research, Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Institute (Incaper).
The main goals, to be attained within a 15-year period, include renovation of 100% of the industrial park for Arabica coffee processing, with varieties recommended by scientific research and the adoption of good agricultural practices.
The Incaper is going to advise farmers in the region to use three new Arabica varieties, in addition to launching a publication entitled "Arabica Coffee Production Techniques" and distribute seeds for farmers to start renewing their crops.
According to information supplied by the institute, the distribution of 2,106 kilograms of seeds, in the current month, should be enough to renovate, in 2009, around 1,000 hectares of the planted area for Arabica coffee in the state. In the next few years, 20 tonnes of seeds should be distributed, enough to cover approximately 10,000 hectares. The renovation should occur at a rate of around 5% a year.
Furthermore, the program also aims to expand production of superior coffee, of greater added value, from 300,000 to 1 million bags a year, as well as to install tasting rooms for Arabica coffee in every city in the state.
Espírito Santo is the second largest coffee producer in Brazil - with an estimated production of 10.3 million bags in 2008 - and the largest producer of the Conilon variety (7.5 million bags). Production in the state of Espírito Santo represents over 25% of the national total. Considering Arabica production alone, the state ranks 4th in the national ranking, losing only to Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Paraná. Espírito Santo exported US$ 346.7 million in coffee from January to August this year.
Arabica coffee farming is one of the main activities in the Serrana and Caparaó regions of Espírito Santo, which answer to approximately 74% of Arabica production in the state. More than 75% of farmers who plant this type of coffee are family farmers, with an average planted area of 4.8 hectares, at altitudes ranging from 400 to 1,200 meters. The average elevation of crops is 671 meters.
According to Dadalto, despite having gone through significant improvements in quality, which even earned it national awards, the "coffee from the mountains of Espírito Santo," as it is known, witnessed little progress in terms of productivity.
"The Renew Arabica Program aims precisely to solve this bottleneck and mark a watershed in the history of Arabica farming, as the goal is to reinvigorate all crops of the variety, not just quality-wise, but especially concerning productivity," he stated.
In the assessment of the CEO, technological advances are needed as well as government support in planned actions, similar to what happened with Conilon coffee. "What we want is thorough renovation of crops, and to that extent the Incaper and the Seag are going to recommend three new cultivars, supply certified seeds of the recommended genetic material, implement a Program for Purchase and Distribution of Limestone, among other actions."
The Renew Arabica Program is part of the Espírito Santo State Program for Sustainable Coffee Farming, which is being devised based on the New Strategic Plan for Developing Agriculture in the State of Espírito Santo, and is backed by the Brazilian Consortium for Research and Development for Coffee (CBP&D Café), of the GTZ, among others.
The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, where it is part of the natural vegetation until this day. The name coffee does not come from Kaffa, the place of origin of the plant, but rather from the Arabic word qahwa, which means wine. For that reason, coffee used to be known as the "Arabian wine" when it arrived in Europe in the 14th century.
The oldest manuscripts mentioning coffee farming date back to the year 575 in Yemen, where the fruit was consumed in natura, and started being planted. It was only in the 16th century, in Persia, that the first grains of coffee were roasted to become the drink as we know today.
Coffee acquired great importance to the Arabs, who had full command of cultivation and preparation of the drink. At that time, coffee was a product kept under lock and key.
Foreigners were forbidden to go near the plantations, and the Arabs would guard the saplings with their lives. The coffee seed does not germinate outside of parchment paper, thus the seeds could only leave the country in that condition.
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