The Biodiverse Ecuador: A New Coffee Horizon
Mountainous region outside of Terrazas del Pisque, Ecaudor (#22, 2021 Cup of Excellence)
Situated right at the equator, with warm and moist climates, rich biodiversity, mountainous terrain, and coffee farms dotted throughout is Ecuador, a pristine coffee-producing country neighboring the two coffee powerhouses of South America. With roughly 105,000 households growing coffee accounting for less than 1% of global coffee production, this region is more known for bananas, oil, and shrimp. Yet, the coffee that is produced is exquisite and unique; and thanks to the first Ecuador Cup of Excellence competition in 2021, this region is becoming more recognized worldwide.
In the middle of the 19th century, coffee first set its roots in Ecuador and led to the spread of plantations in the Manabí Province in the Jipijapa Zone. Coffee thrived and spread to higher elevations, however, there was a significant decrease in production in the 1980s. Along with the collapsing C-market, the reasoning behind this decrease in production was due to the increase in production costs and lack of labor – making it more difficult to compete in the tumultuous coffee market. This contributed to the general disinterest in the production of coffee from the youth who then ventured to the cities to make a more profitable living. La Roya, or Coffee Leaf Rust, also spread, causing another hindrance to coffee production.
Producers thus turned to other crops such as banana and cacao. In 2019, coffee accounted for less 0.34% of overall GDP, equating to around $75 million. This is shocking considering coffee’s prominence only decades before thanks to the ideal climate and elevation the country has to offer coffee producers.
With varying levels of elevation, Ecuador contains a number of different climates and ecosystems whilst also being home to roughly 1,500 bird species, nearly 1/6 of the world’s total. Deforestation has unfortunately led to the loss of pristine forests and habitats – with only 6% of the total Ecuadoran forests remaining. Rich forests are gradually being depleted, calling for a more integrated approach to growing crops without harming native ecosystems.
With regards to coffee production today, five hectares is the average size of farms, mostly utilizing intercropping methods by planting coffee with cacao, citrus fruits, and mangoes. 86% of coffee production comes from three main regions: Manabίί, Orellana, and Loja.
However, in 2021, a shift was initiated that began to shine light on the small biodiverse origin. The world saw Ecuador’s first Cup of Excellence competition, unearthing numerous coffee-producing gems throughout the various ecosystems of Ecuador. This is partially thanks to a collection of exporters and producers who sought to have their coffees recognized globally.
One such example is Galletti, an American-run exporting company who work primarily with smallholder producers to spread knowledge about the specialty coffee market, how to grow higher quality coffee, and integration into the international market. Ena Escobar founded the company with her husband in 2010, and since then, is now working with nearly 400 producers, 320 of which are female producers. A significant portion of farms in Ecuador are run and managed by women, primarily due to the fact that they remain home with the families whilst the men of the households go off to work in the mines to earn money for the family. By equipping the women with knowledge to manage a successful farm, Ena and her team are able to provide a higher income for these producers and thus create a future for coffee in Ecuador.
According to Ena, the Ecuador coffee market shrunk nearly 90% in just 20 years due to the increase in production costs, lack of market integration, and the spread of La Roya. However, production began to slightly increase in 2007 thanks to the opening of the Ecuadoran specialty coffee market. Each producer working with Galletti maintains between 0.5 and 5 hectares of coffee-producing land growing Typica, Bourbon and Caturra. Typically, these producers will also grow banana, pineapple, papaya, cucumber in addition to raising chickens and fishing, to diversify income.
After harvest, which generally occurs from June to September, producers will wash their coffee on site and dry on raised beds. Once dried, the producers will sell the pergamino to Galletti where it is hulled and sorted at a dry mill in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. This enterprise has allowed producers to connect with roasters worldwide and increase their income. However, producers still need income fast and immediately which may lead them to sell to local middlemen for far less. This is a struggle Ena hopes to surpass and reduce – working to ensure producers receive a sustainable income as soon as the coffee is sold.
Additionally, the virus in 2020 caused numerous issues for producers with many road closures and low demands. Thanks to the Cup of Excellence competition in 2021, quality is gradually becoming recognized as producers began to recover from losses in the previous year. Producers were learning from agronomists about improved agricultural practices and adopting smarter financial practices. The work of Galletti has helped maintain and improve coffee production in Ecuador – providing producers with more income and knowledge regarding how to create a future for coffee.
Arnaud Causse, founder, and owner of Terrazas del Pisque and winner of 22nd place at the 2021 Cup of Excellence, is one of the producers working with Galletti. Originally from France, he ventured to Costa Rica in the 1980s to pursue a career in coffee production, and then to Africa shortly after. He traveled between the two regions until he finally settled in Ecuador, specifically the Galapagos Islands, to pursue a synergistic production of coffee with nature. He named his farm Las Tolas and began growing coffee within a dense, biodiverse cloud rainforest and realized the difficulties of growing a nonnative crop amongst local trees and vegetation.
It was in 2013 that Arnaud decided to travel to mainland Ecuador to initiate the start of Terrazas del Pisque. It took nearly two years before the final success of planting coffee thanks to proper irrigation. He was working in the dry highlands of Ecuador, which can be difficult to grow coffee. However, Arnaud was determined to find the ideal conditions for coffee by utilizing the natural benefits of surrounding ecosystems. He intercropped the coffee with radish, carrot, Jerusalem artichoke and gourds whilst planting Castor trees for shade and a natural nematode repellant. Other trees such as Indigo and Inga were planted to fix Nitrogen in the soil for healthy coffee production. Arnaud currently maintains his own wet mill where he has been experimenting with different processing methods to help improve the quality of his coffee.
Coffee production in Ecuador, according to Arnaud, also comes with its challenges. These include high worker wages and social costs, lack of industry, and expensive logistics. Climate change is also proving to be a potential threat, harming the future of coffee without the necessary adaptations. With his integrated approach to growing coffee and focus on synergistic methods – Arnaud is working with nature to grow exceptional coffee in Ecuador. This includes agroforestry, or growing coffee with native trees and vegetation to prevent harm to ecosystems and to gain natural benefits for the coffee. By doing so – he is preserving native ecosystems and helping integrate coffee into Ecuador’s biodiverse world.
Arnaud is just one example of the many extraordinary coffee producers in Ecuador. With the support of exporters like Galletti, who unite Ecuador’s hardworking smallholders, a light is being shone on the excellent coffee of this majestic country. Mercanta is happy to announce the purchase of Arnaud’s coffee and another Cup of Excellence-winning lot (Finca Indera). We hope to continue this relationship and bring more Ecuadoran coffee to our clients worldwide to help contribute to the preservation of nature and coffee in Ecuador.