Brazil is increasing the production of robusta beans as their hardiness over the higher quality Arabica beans becomes more important.
Robusta’s advantages, including heat tolerance and its ability to grow at lower altitudes, means less risk for farmers who have seen their livelihoods disrupted or even destroyed by weather events outside of their control. The recent frost has reportedly affected 11% of Arabica growing areas in the country.
As Brazil’s output increases, it has the potential to challenge Vietnam’s status as the world’s largest Robusta producer. This puts Vietnam under pressure since although the country produces a lot of Robusta observers expect to see production fall as farmers are starting to replace some of the land used for Robusta with other more profitable commodities. We may yet, however, see the global coffee market adapt in response to climate change and increase Robusta production.
Currently, 60% of the world’s coffee production is Arabica variety, which can fetch double the price of Robusta due to its sweeter notes and variation in flavours. Robusta makes up the remaining 40% and is seen as an inferior variety in quality. However, Robusta yields much more and is more resistant to higher temperatures than Arabica and can be grown at lower altitudes — all of these factors are becoming more appealing to Brazilian farmers.
Even though Brazil is the world’s larger coffee producer and the largest Arabica producer, its Arabica production has remained flat in the past five years. Robusta production, on the other hand, has increased productivity levels by 300% in the past two decades. Output has increased by 20% to 20.2 million bags in just the past three seasons, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Traditionally, 13 million bags of Brazilian Robusta, known as conillon, is consumed domestically, but the country is accumulating a healthy surplus for exports as international buyers are finding it more attractive. On top of that, there are various types of Robusta seeds in Brazil as farmers have specially bred their crops to have increased genetic efficiency and resilience to warm and dry weather.
Brazil’s Robusta yield increase is challenging Vietnam, the world’s number one Robusta producer and exporter. Last season, the country exported 23.6 million bags of Vietnamese Robusta, compared to 4.9 million bags of conillon. Vietnam has maintained its top spot in part due to its higher average yields of 2.5 tonnes a hectare (vs the average in India, for example, with 1.1 tonnes per hectare). However, reports show that its recent output has decreased 5% to 28 million bags.
Vietnam’s coffee and cocoa producers’ association Vicofa expects the country’s Robusta output to continue decreasing in the future as farmers ramp up inter-cropping with fruits, nuts and vegetables because durians and macadamias are more profitable for the country.
The increased production of Robusta varieties in Brazil caused primarily by climate change is expected to affect global markets and have effects on world coffee markets. Around the world, roasters are already including Robusta in their pricier blends, which are dominated by Arabica at the moment. Enrique Alves, a scientist, specialising in coffee seed cultivation at Brazilian state agritech research centre Embrapa, stated:
It might ultimately be thanks to robusta that our daily coffee will never be missing as the globe warms. It is much more robust and productive than arabica. For equivalent levels of technology, it produces almost twice as much.
An independent Vietnam-based industry analyst reported that roasters, including Nestlé, have replaced Vietnamese Robusta with conillon this season. Nestlé is investing $700 million in Mexico to upgrade its coffee factories in the country. According to Cecafe data, conillon imports have almost quadrupled in the past three years, although Nestlé had declined to comment about whether it uses conillon in its Mexico factories.