With a strong smallholder presence, an array of microclimates, and climbing altitudes, Peru produces some excellent quality coffee.
Coffee was introduced to Peru in the mid-18th century via neighbouring Ecuador but was not commercially exported until the late 19th century. Production was only increased significantly after the turn of the 20th century, when Peru’s default on a loan owed to the British Government saw over two million hectares of land transferred to Britain (under the name of ‘The Peruvian Country’) as a repayment. A full quarter of this was put under agricultural production, including coffee, and it was at this point that export trade began in earnest.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter9th
Sacks (60kg) exported annuallyApprox: 3,772,000
Percentage of world coffee market3%
Other major agricultural exportsGrapes, Asparagus, other Vegetables, & Avocados
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?855,000
Typical varieties producedTypica, Bourbon, Caturra, Paché & Catimor
Key coffee regionsCajamarca, Junín, Cusco, & San Martin
Typical harvest timesMarch - September
Typically availableFrom August/September
The Rocky Start of Coffee
As across Latin America, the early days of coffee production in Peru were characterised by large landholdings (such as that of the Peruvian Country mentioned above) concentrated in the hands of a wealthy (mostly European) elite; however, as workers migrated from other areas of Peru, such as the highlands, to provide labour on these farms, they began to set up shop independently – fairly easy as land was abundant.
In the post-war years, as the British Company departed, these small-scale, ‘peasant’ producers remained. The trend was consolidated during the 1950s and 60s, as the Peruvian government engaged in land reform and encouraged coffee cultivation as part of a set of socio-economic development measures; the crop, which well-suited smallholder farming, resulted in a demographic shift of coffee production within the country, with small-scale, indigenous farmers now being responsible for the majority of the country’s production. The military dictatorships of the early to mid-20th century further bolstered this profile by partially providing cooperatives for the country’s producers – arguably one of the only potentially positive legacies of the era. Between 1970 to 1980, under the International Coffee Agreement’s quota system, profits were successfully channeled to state supported coffee cooperatives, which were responsible for exporting 80% of production throughout the 1970s. Of course, the bulk of the profits were funnelled into government coffers, and while bolstering the cooperatives, the situation served also to instill complacency, with few operational improvements being made during this time period.
Fujimori’s structural adjustment policies during the 1980s further eroded autonomy and capacity building, and in the wake of the arising economic crisis, the rise of Shining Path and ensuing violence hit coffee farming (in fact, all agricultural) areas quite hard. There was significant capital and labour disinvestment in coffee production, and many farmers moved from rural areas to the relatively safer urban environs, causing trade networks (already tenuous) to fall apart.
This downward trend was largely reversed by the turn to ‘ethical’ coffee in the mid-to-late 1990s. ‘Solidarity’ networks prioritising fairly traded, ecologically friendly coffees fueled a coffee boom in Peru, despite historically low prices. In fact, land under coffee grew from 163K hectares in 1995 to 215K hectares in by 2005. Other than Brazil, this makes Peru the only Latin American country to defy production decreases during this period of historically low prices. Specialty imports (including certified coffees) began in 1997 and have gradually increased, contributing toward Peru’s current status as the 7th largest producer in the world. However, from 2013/14 and 2014/15 exports are down over 40% (with production down over 30%) due in large part to the impact of coffee leaf rust, which has had a major impact in this country where a great percentage of coffee is grown without pesticides or fungicides. Peru is currently the world’s largest exporter of organic coffee, with some 90,000 hectares certified organic. This has primarily been due to smaller producers’ lacking resources for investment in chemical inputs; however, in the wake of the coffee leaf rust crisis, it is difficult to say for how much longer this will be the case.
The Rise of Smallholders
Today, around 223,000 Peruvian families have committed some 425,000 hectares to coffee production, and an additional 300,000+ individuals are reliant upon the coffee industry in some way. Production remains centred in the region of Cajamarca in the north of the country, where half of all the country’s coffee is grown. Over seventy percent of this is Typica followed by Caturra (20 percent), and others (10 percent), though other varieties are grown as well. Coffee is also produced in other regions such as Cusco and Junín to the south.
As mentioned earlier, Peru’s production today is overwhelmingly small scale, with the average farm coming in at just under 3 hectares. Along with this structure comes those problems typically associated with small-scale producers across Latin America, such as difficulties accessing credit and inefficiencies in managing production and processing. Cooperatives help producers mitigate risks and provide access to resources that are crucial to bringing in the harvest, and at present, much of Peru’s coffee is collected from small farms then bulked together before being milled and marketed through these cooperatives, the largest of which represent up to 2,000 farmers and 7,000 hectares. However, even though many of these cooperatives have put a great deal of emphasis on improving processing, productive inputs continue to be a blind spot. Although this is changing, a focus on production and quality has been slow in coming, which along with the lack of existing infrastructure (both processing and transport) has given Peru something of a bad reputation.
Nonetheless, with a quarter of Peru’s coffee grown between 1,200 and 2,000 meters in a cited twenty-eight microclimates, there is great potential to improve this regional identity of coffees and develop greater traceability and identify small exceptional producers.