With a tumultuous history, Nicaragua is building its repertoire as a coffee-producing country.
Introduced into the country in the mid-1800s and forming a central position in the country’s economy for more than a century, coffee is currently Nicaragua’s primary export. Its production generates over $448 million dollars a year in exports, representing 8.2% of overall exports, and provides more than 200,000 jobs to locals.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter11th
Sacks (60kg) exported annually2,954,000
Percentage of world coffee market2.2%
Other major agricultural exportsSugar, peanuts, bananas, and beans
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?More than 40,000
Typical varieties producedCaturra, Bourbon, Maracaturra, Maragogype, Pacamara, Catuaí, & Catimor
Key coffee regionsMatagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí Madriz and Nueva Segovia
Typical harvest timesDecember - March
The Rocky Start of Coffee
The specialty coffee industry in Nicaragua has been hindered by decades of unstable political systems, civil war, and natural disasters. In 1979, a group of Marxist intellectuals rose up to then-president Samoza, whose family had ruled the country since 1939. A bloody civil war ensued, with the National Sandinista Liberation Front (or ‘Sandinistas’ – named after the man who formed Nicaragua’s first cooperative) emerging victorious and inheriting a mess. The countryside was decimated, there were 40,000 casualties. As the new state tried to bolster the coffee industry by seizing Samoza coffee holdings (15 percent of the country’s fincas) and establishing ENCAFE (Nicaraguan Coffee Company) as the sole buyer and seller of Nicaraguan coffee, it was clear that the new regime knew little about coffee. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many coffee farms were abandoned or ignored and rebel Contras targeted coffee mills and transport as a key element of their campaign. The United States’ embargo on Nicaraguan imports – declared in 1985 – dealt a further blow to the industry, and even as the Sandanistas were ushered out in 1990’s national elections, the coffee industry continued to struggle. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country, destroying much of the infrastructure and displacing tens of thousands of coffee farmers and workers. This was followed by the coffee crisis of 1999-2003 which had a devastating effect on the country and the coffee industry.
Challenging the Challenges
Today, Nicaragua is the largest but most sparsely populated country in Central America and is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere; however, great strides are being made both with regards to social welfare and with regards to coffee production, which itself is seen as a driver for rural development. Pioneering farmers with a vision have begun to promote the quality of coffee; meanwhile, programs such as the Cup of Excellence and the creation of the Nicaraguan Specialty Coffee Association have greatly contributed towards awareness regarding the differences between specialty and commercial commodity grade coffees.
Coffee production is concentrated in the highlands of Matagalpa and Jinotega, and the coffee industry is divided between large single estates, cooperatives and small growers’ associations. Most coffee is processed using the traditional fully washed method and dried on patios; however, some farmers also now produce natural and honey/pulped natural coffee and dried using raised beds.
Looking to the Future
The weather in the mountains can be cool and humid – conditions that can stretch drying times to a point where problems can arise in the cup. Depending on the weather conditions and the location of the farm, parchment is sometimes transported to lower altitude mills for final drying. Road infrastructure has proved to be crucial, as in the past, semi-wet parchment would reach its final destination after long delays and coffees often would experience a second ferment in transit. The government, thus, is taking steps to improve transport infrastructure.
Thanks to the rich volcanic soil, Nicaragua has some of the most ideal growing climates in Nicaragua. With the proper government support, there is much potential for high quality coffee in the country.