Coffee was introduced into Cameroon whilst it was still a German colony at the beginning of the last century. Initially coffee production revolved around Arabica coffee from Jamaican cultivations, which took well to the mountainous regions of Adamawa in the centre north. Robusta coffee from the Congo and Indonesia then followed, developing rapidly in coastal southern and central regions – the Arabica variety does not even account for a third of the country´s total production. The robusta coffee from Cameroon is graded according to maximum number of defects and specific sieve. The coffee must come from the same botanical species, although there is a 10% allowance for other species. It must not emit unpleasant odours or contain more than 12% humidity, otherwise it may have a musty smell. It cannot contain black beans, cherries or foreign bodies beyond what is listed in the list of defects. It should be dark brown in colour to the eye.
The very rich and volcanic soil, high altitudes and notable rainy seasons all make Cameroon an ideal place to cultivate coffee. However, as often occurs in coffee areas, this country has long had to deal with inadequate infrastructure, deep-rooted corruption in governing institutions and a lack of means to introduce substantial policies for quality control. All these factors make it very difficult to increase production in a country which boasts all the right natural conditions.
The Germans introduced coffee here in 1905, whilst the cultivar Jamaican Blue Mountain was imported in 1913. The cultivation of the latter only boomed in 1929 when different plants were distributed at the experimental centre of Dschang, a mountainous city in the western province. Later production was extended also to the neighbouring areas of Bamenda and Foumban where plants from Kenya and Indonesia were also introduced. The Robusta variety was instead cultivated in the southern and flatter part of the country near Ebolowa with plants from the Congo.
Much of the production in Cameroon still lies in the hands of small farmers with plantations ranging from 2 to 10 hectares, almost all included within diverse agricultural systems. On the one hand, if this system is applied with due care it can result in unique coffees – with very complex aromatic profiles. However, it can lead to problems with consistency and regularity from the physical and organoleptic perspective of the product.
The second half of the 80s saw a sharp fall in prices which deterred many producers from investing resources into the coffee sector, forcing them to abandon production, unleashing a strong backlash. It was not until the early Nineties with a new increase in prices that farmers began re-evaluating the benefits of coffee production. However, in the space of a few years prices newly plummeted, coinciding with the government choosing to liberalize the market freeing itself completely from the coffee sector. Farmers were left without any type of technical or economic support and completely at the mercy of ruthless cowboys. The productivity of the plantations dropped to 300 kg per hectare (with the average production expected to be in the vicinity of 2-3000 kg per hectare) in the space of a few years and many farmers were forced to either abandon or destroy their crops.
October of last year saw a recovery plan launched to sustain production via investments to increase the productivity of existing plantations, creation of new crops and the technological upgrading of the machinery. This project which has been developed in conjunction with the World Bank, FAO and UNCTAD, has been allocated 38 million euros with the target of tripling Cameroon´s current production and situating it among the top 12 producers worldwide.
BOYO ORGANIC COFFEE
The 1998 project – Farmers Cooperative Initiative – carried out by Matti Foncha, son of the former first vice-president of Cameroon, introduced the “Boyo” brand into the market. This organic coffee takes its name from the volcanic region in the highlands of West Cameroon. The objective of this project is to improve the product quality by standardizing the different production stages: from cultivation to the picking and end sorting. This can ensure a higher premium for workers, raising living standards accordingly.
In 2008, IISE (International Institute for Species Exploration) from the University of Arizona listed this species among the top 10 new species of the year. Discovered in 1983, coffea charrieriana is named after the French researcher André Charrier, who dedicated most of his professional life to the study of coffee at the French IRD during the last 30 years of the 20th century. This plant is notable for being among the few naturally caffeine-free coffea variants. The study of this particular type began in 1997 and its cultivation has only recently been experimented with in the natural reserve of Bakossi, south western province of Cameroon at a height of 1600m.