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Neighboring Kenya, Tanzania produces similar quality coffee and is comprised primarily of smallholder producers.

Kenya’s less well-known neighbour produces an astoundingly similar-tasting coffee in a somewhat similar landscape. Coffee is marketed by both an auction system organised by the Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB) and direct sale.

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  • Place In World For Coffee Exporter
  • Sacks (60kg) exported annually
    Approx: 1,069,000
  • Percentage of world coffee market
    Less than 1%
  • Other major agricultural exports
    Tobacco, Cashew nuts, Cotton, Sesame seed
  • Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?
    400,00 families or more
  • Typical varieties produced
    Bourbon, Kent, Blue Mountain, Typica, Nyassa & N39
  • Key coffee regions
    Mara, Kilimanjaro, Ruvuma, Mbeya, Kigoma, Arusha, Manyara, Bukoba & Kagera
  • Typical harvest times
    July - December
  • Typically available

The Start of Coffee

Arabica seedlings were first introduced to the country from Réunion Island (then known as Bourbon) and planted in the Bayamoyo and Mogoro regions (fairly close to Dar Es Salaam) and were later established as a successful commercial crop in 1893 on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro by German colonizers.

After World War I, Tanzania (then Tanganyika), the country became a British Colony. Arabica was introduced into the western areas of Tanzania, but production remained limited. When Tanzania was granted independence in 1961, one of the key economic strategies of the new government was to increase production. Many larger coffee farms were nationalised and came to be state run by state cooperatives. The system was wildly inefficient, however, and neither the country’s coffee dreams, nor its economic dreams were realised. Multiparty democracy was introduced and the industry re-liberalised, roughly taking the form that it has today. Recovery has been slow, and Tanzania is still widely regarded as having not fully reached its true potential as a producer of high-quality coffee.

Tanzania square

The Importance of Coffee

Today, coffee is cultivated in practically all the highland regions of the country. Wild coffee species are still being discovered in Tanzania – most recently Coffea kihansiensis in the Udzungwa Mountains. Both Arabica (harvested July-December and wet processed) and Robusta (harvested April-November and processed using the natural method) are cultivated and the main growing areas are Mara, Kilimanjaro, Ruvuma, Mbeya, Kigoma, Arusha, Manyara, Bukoba and Kagera (where both Robusta and Arabica are grown) – though some regions are shrinking due to climate change and urban sprawl.

Tanzania’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, which provides employment for around 90% of the workforce and accounts for some 85% of exports. Coffee itself brings in roughly $135 million per year. 90% of coffee within the country is grown by smallholders, and nearly 75% of volume is Arabica rather than Robusta. Due to the standard producer profile, it is not surprising that low yields pose particular difficulties for the industry’s sustainability. In an attempt to address this, the TCB has developed a coffee strategy (adopted in 2001 and revised in 2012) that focuses on increasing clean coffee production so some 100,000 tons by year 2021. Quality is a significant part of the equation, and the goal is to have at least 70% of the country’s coffee placed on specialty markets by the same year. Also, as an extension of this goal, the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI) was established in the early 2000s with two main aims: to improve the livelihoods of farmers and to further develop a sustainable, profitable and prosperous coffee industry in Tanzania. As part of these goals, the Institute has set itself the aim or replanting all of the country’s 200 million coffee trees with improved varieties.


Looking Towards the Future

Today, an estimated 450,000 smallholders are reliant on coffee (known locally as kahawa) for their livelihoods. This, in turn, supports around 4.5 million family members and labourers (11% of the country’s entire population). These small plots of 5 hectares or less produce almost 90% of the country’s entire production, the remainder is grown by cooperatives and on larger well-organised estates, such as Blackburn in Oldeani.

A major challenge for the future of production in the country is urbanisation and land pressure, which, combined with climatic shifts, has seen much of the coffee in the traditional high-quality areas around Kilimanjaro, for instance. In the west, around Mbozi, land value has increased substantially and lesser-known regions in the south, such as Mbeya, are rising to the challenge and filling the gaps, however.