The aroma of a cup of coffee is stirring a new brand for Sri Lanka’s plantations that are now diversifying into cultivating the cocoa seeds that once ruled the estates.
With the increasing popularity among millennial to consume coffee as opposed to tea, the world is drinking more of this beverage and Sri Lanka is no different from that either.
The Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) that are entering this segment are using this as an opportunity to be the primary movers into this sector, Lanka Coffee Association (LCA) Secretary Kushan Samarawickrama told the Business Times.
In his view alongside the existing brand value that is Ceylon Tea, Sri Lanka should be able to position Ceylon Coffee or Sri Lankan coffee to the world market.
The younger generation, he said is shifting to coffee with the increasing number of cafes opening up around the country particularly in Colombo, Kandy and Galle.
He noted that if Sri Lanka should carry out best practices then it they can market the best quality coffees and today there are more smallholders engaged in its cultivation as well.
Mr. Samarawickrama pointed out that Sri Lankan coffee has gone to the next level in terms of volumes compared to five to 10 years back.
In areas like Nuwara Eliya and Welimada almost every household cultivates a few coffee trees, he said.
These smallholders do not cultivate it as their main crop but as an alternative to tea and it is being collected through their farmer network following which it is sent to the factories for processing.
But this network while adding to the volume also has some problems since these farmers are not concerned about quality and would pluck all the cherries although it is those that are only bright red that should be plucked. However, on the estates it is possible for the RPCs to set standards to their workers and obtain the right quality so that the end product is of a higher value, he explained.
Today there are two big wet mills which are processing plants both of which are assisted by the Australian Government-funded Market Development Facility MDF in Kotmale and Welimada, Mr. Samarawickrama explained.
MDF recently participated in Australia in an international coffee event to promote Sri Lankan coffee. MDF Business Advisor Vishan Rajakaruna told the Business Times that currently they are looking at specialty coffee for export as there is a growing demand for this sector.
Since “we have the right elevations we can cater to that global
demand,” he said.
The LCA was established last year with the first Sri Lankan coffee festival kicking off in January this year.
With a decline in the tea output plantation companies are increasingly looking at cultivating alternative crops one of which is coffee that would also help cater to the increasing global coffee consumption.
The industry’s growth has seen revenues of coffee exports amounting to US$0.32 million in2019.
The coffee culture has spread to even Asian countries like Vietnam and Maldives.
Hayleys Plantations MD and Planters Association Spokesman Dr. Roshan Rajadurai pointed out that almost every company is today engaged in cultivating at least 25-30 hectares of coffee.
One of the reasons plantations diversify to coffee is to make use of uncultivable tea lands which are not economical to produce and since this is a less labour intensive crop, Dr. Rajadurai explained.
He noted that while tea requires about 1000 labour days per hectare per year, coffee on the other hand requires about less than 50 labour days with picking carried out only twice.
“It’s not a total conversion but
only a selective basis on a small scale,” he said.
Already about 10 companies have diversified into coffee that would take up only about 5 per cent of the total land cultivation.
He noted however, that it was unlikely that Sri Lanka will completely shift to coffee from tea.