Although it’s by no means a popular coffee origin, Guinea produces significant volumes of robusta – meaning coffee is an important cash crop for the country’s economy.
In the 2015/16 harvest period, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that Guinea’s production of robusta peaked at 280,000 60kg bags.
However, following a devastating Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016 in West Africa, more than 2,300 deaths were recorded in Guinea alone. Furthermore, years of political instability and low coffee prices have also kept production volumes low, with some Guinean farmers abandoning coffee production altogether. But recently, several initiatives have launched in the country which are focused on reviving its coffee sector.
To find out more about the potential of Guinea’s coffee sector, I spoke with two local industry experts. Read on to learn more.
You may also like our guide to the coffee sector in Côte d’Ivoire.
An overview of coffee production in Guinea
In 2020, Guinea was the world’s 34th-largest producer of coffee. While the volumes of coffee it grows may be negligible on a global scale, it’s an important crop for many of the country’s farmers.
Coffee is grown in 15 regions across the country, including the Fouta Djallon plateau, the Ziama Massif nature reserve, and the land surrounding Mount Nimba.
Aboubacar Diallo is a coffee producer and an entrepreneur from Guinea. He says that both his father and grandfather were also coffee farmers.
He explains that most coffee farmers in the country are smallholders who own 1ha or less of land. Many of them face challenges with low yields and low prices.
The vast majority of coffee grown in Guinea is robusta, although it’s believed that there are a few farms which also grow arabica, but only on a very small scale. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), arabica was first introduced to the country at some point in the early-to-mid 1900s, but cultivation was relatively unsuccessful.
Several reports claim that certain robusta species are native to Guinea, such as Coffee mauritania, Coffea stenophylla, and Coffea liberica. In fact, one robusta variety known as Ziama-Macenta has received a geographical indication for its high quality and desirable qualities, with some coffee professionals claiming it tastes similar to some arabica varieties.
However, Aboubacar tells me that Ziama-Macenta can be a low-yielding variety.
“It’s a high-quality robusta, but the region it’s grown in is unable to fill even two containers during a harvest season because of low production volumes,” he says.
Antoine Togbodouno is a sustainability and community group leader based in the country’s capital of Conakry. He explains that low coffee yields are a widespread problem in Guinea.
“Coffee is very important to Guinea, but it mainly grows in forested areas,” he says. “A few farmer groups have formed to grow production volumes and establish better marketing, but these are few and far between.”
He adds that many farmers don’t see growing coffee as a priority, meaning that some coffee producers are left with little choice but to form small organisations to receive more support.
Harvest season typically runs from September to the end of January. However, there are few quality control systems in place, as farmers generally pick both ripe and unripe cherries and process them collectively.
“Although coffee quality can be good in Guinea, farmers need to understand more about best farming practices,” Antoine says.
Many producers don’t have access to suitable drying beds, which means that cherries are often left to dry on patios. This can lead to the coffee taking on undesirable earthy qualities once processed, if farmers aren’t careful.
“After harvesting, many farmers don’t carry out any kind of processing,” Antoine tells me. “Typically, they only dry the cherries and then sell them to buyers, who will then also sell the coffee to other buyers for further processing.”
Where does Guinean coffee end up?
The vast majority of Guinea’s coffee is exported. As a result of a formal lack of best practices for harvesting and processing, many Guinean producers receive very low prices for their coffee.
“There is very little formally-certified specialty coffee in Guinea,” Aboubacar says. “There is potential with the Ziama-Macenta variety, but there are several financial and technical barriers to improve quality.”
Once coffee is transported to cities – typically Macenta, which is close to the border with Liberia – foreign buyers purchase it from local agents. The coffee is then sorted and undergoes minor processing so that it is more suitable and stable for export.
Lastly, the coffee is sent to warehouses – most of which are located in Conakry – before it is exported. Some of the biggest export markets for Guinean coffee are Algeria, Morocco, and Senegal, with Holland, Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy also buying smaller volumes.
However, there are also claims that because Guinea’s production volumes are so low, some of its exported coffee may actually be from Cote d’Ivoire – indicating a greater lack of traceability across the supply chain.
For the most part, Guinea is a tea-drinking country. Most of the country’s tea is imported from Sri Lanka. However, despite this, coffee consumption is still seemingly growing – even if it is at a comparatively slow pace.
“People buy instant coffee drinks from roadside kiosks,” Antoine explains. “In coffee shops, people tend to drink black coffee.”
He adds that it’s more common for men to visit coffee shops than women, which may well be because of a number of sociocultural conventions which are still prominent in the country.
Antoine says that in Lélouma, a town in west-central Guinea, more and more coffee bars are opening.
“They are used as spaces for people to socialise and discuss certain topics, including politics and sports,” he explains.
There is also a growing number of more “formal” coffee shops in Conakry, including Café Monts Nimba which roasts locally-grown arabica and robusta.
However, Aboubacart tells me that there are few coffee roasters in Guinea. Moreover, he says that there are no formally-trained baristas in the country.
“I want to learn how to be a professional barista,” he says. “I want to serve 100% Guinean coffee and introduce more people to the country’s coffee.”
Addressing the challenges
There’s no doubt that Guinea’s coffee sector faces a significant number of challenges. One of the most prominent issues is a lack of farmer organisations.
“There needs to be more support to organise producers into organisations or co-operatives so they can grow coffee collectively,” Antoine explains. “Producers also need seeds to plant in nurseries so they can replace ageing trees.
“Technical assistance is also very important,” he adds. “We need more formal training on how to best plant seeds and maximise yields.”
Aboubacar agrees, saying that the lack of coffee co-operatives and organisations means there is little incentive for farmers to ask for much needed support.
Furthermore, a distinct lack of standardised quality control means that producers will continue to experience low yields and low prices.
However, Aboubacar says that a few years ago, the then-president of the country proposed an initiative to revive arabica production in northern Guinea – which has a similar climate to the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia.
While some seeds were imported from Rwanda, there has been little progress made with boosting Guinea’s arabica production. Moreover, the country’s Ebola Recovery Plan focused significantly on increasing overall coffee production, but efforts have been largely unsuccessful so far.
Aboubacar says he isn’t particularly optimistic about the future of the country’s coffee sector.
“If conditions don’t improve, I anticipate that production volumes will continue to decrease over the years because farmers are becoming less interested in growing coffee,” he tells me. “It’s a lot of hard work with few rewards, including low prices.”
Following years of political instability and the devastating Ebola outbreak, Guinea’s coffee sector continues to struggle. While there is certainly potential for it to grow larger volumes of higher-quality coffee (including arabica), a lack of adequate government oversight, agricultural best practices, and quality control means more support is essential.
Ultimately, there needs to be more emphasis on forming coffee co-operatives and organisations to strengthen the country’s coffee sector, but it’s evident that these efforts will take some time.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article exploring coffee production in Ghana.
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