THE COFFEE CHAIN GAME

Panama 2015 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: COFFEE

In 2013, the production of coffee in Panama reached 10,100 tons. Moreover, Panama cultivates a remarkable variety of coffee beans, meeting the demands of gourmet tastes.

The best coffee in Panama grows in the highlands of Chiriqui, the well known province located in the west of the country; the farms in Chiriquí are found in two main areas: the town of Boquete, a heartland for coffee production, and Volcán Candela, known as “Panama's breadbasket" because of its prosperous agriculture. Surrounded by an inactive volcano called Baru and the Caldera River, the region has an elevation range of between 700 and 1,070m and is characterized by an exceptionally mild microclimate. Moreover, the soil of this region is chemically enriched by the mineral debris of the inactive volcano that, combined with regular rainfall and constant moisture, makes this land a perfect location for coffee plantations.
Coffee beans undergo a unique harvesting process: the cherry-red berries are handpicked from plants and then quickly processed. When dried, the processed beans are placed into jute bags and are ready for export. According to research published by FAO in 2013, the production of coffee in Panama reached 10,100 tons. As the result of their growth speed and bean quality, various coffee bean plants produce different flavors and Panama has a remarkable variety for expert consumers.

According to ICO, the International Coffee Organization, the most popular variety of coffee in Panama is mild Arabica, a variety characterized by a lower content of caffeine compared to the Robusta variety. The coffee varieties grown are 82% Arabica and 18% Robusta. The US is a top consumer of Panama's coffee, with powerhouse Starbucks a leading purchaser of Panamanian beans. Along with the US, Canada, Europe and Asia are all top purchasers as well.

Over the past decade Panama has been able to establish herself as the sole producer and exporter worldwide of the geisha variety, with exports reaching between 8,000 and 10,000 hundredweight per year. Geisha coffee plants, originally introduced into Panama from Ethiopia via Costa Rica in 1963, are the source of a distinguished beverage. The typica variety also produces a good cup and is often used as a base plant to develop other varieties. The san roman variety is a Brazilian variety of typica.

2015 will be remembered as a challenging year for the Panamanian Coffee Industry; the export of beans has started decaying. According to Capital Financiero, during the first 4 months of 2015, the sector was characterized by a fall of 75.5% ($479,000) compared to $1.7 million in the first quarter of 2014. This fall is strictly connected with a disease caused by Hemileia Vastatrix, a fungus that alters the photosynthetic activity of the coffee leaves, affecting the quality of the beans. The most affected regions in Panama are Chiriquí, Colón, Bocas del Toro, Darién, Coclé, Veraguas and the district of Capira en Panamá Oeste, where the local producers had to replace 20-year old coffee beans with new varieties. Between 2014 and 2015, MIDA, the Ministry of Agriculture, allocated 2 million plants to save coffee production in the country. Moreover, the ministry will support the sector by introducing the Robusta variety into the country. Robusta is stronger than Arabica and its production is cheaper.