STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International

Volume 4, Number 5

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34 STiR tea & coffee industry international / Issue 5, 2015 (October/November) By Thomas Schmid M A nursery for arabica seedlings Stephen Walls in his office in Yangon Photo courtesy Winrock International yanmar has emerged with a reinvigorated entrepreneurial vision after more than six decades of self-imposed isolation by successive military govern- ments. This new enthusiasm for commerce is evident in the emerging coffee industry guided by experts intent on expanding the global supply of quality beans. Coffee cultivation started as early as 1885 in the former British colony of Burma, when missionaries established the first small farms. The sub-tropical climate of al- ternating warm days and cool nights with frequent rainfall in Myanmar's central and northern highlands proved ideal for growing arabica. However, unlike other British colonies, Myanmar's coffee industry was never developed beyond rudimentary small- scale farming. In the years since independence in 1948, it was further neglected, primarily because many of the growing areas were occupied by guerilla groups of various ethnicities, against which the changing military juntas waged bitter wars. Decades of isolation did precious little to attract foreign investment. That is now changing. The Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the last 10 years or so has taken the first modest steps to develop its potential as a major supplier of arabica coffees. A small robusta-growing industry has also sprung up in the country's southwestern and southeastern lowlands. Myanmar on the world coffee map Despite these efforts, Myanmar to date remains relatively unknown as a global source for quality coffee beans, being overshadowed by adjacent China and nearby Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. "Today's interest [in Myanmar-grown coffee] is better described as curiosity rather than demand," explains Andrew Hetzel, a project consultant for the US-based Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). "Myanmar is not well known outside of Asia and completely Myanmar is an emerging coffee producing country with the potential to add quality beans to a global market short on arabica and with a growing interest in superior grades of robusta. Though annual production output currently remains small, it is government policy to greatly expand coffee growing areas over the next few years. STiR Tea & Coffee explores whether Myanmar will emphasize high volume commodity coffee like Vietnam or remain dedicated to producing high-quality specialty coffees. Myanmar's Arabica Awakening

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