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Tanzania coffee harvest, exports to hit record high

Tanzania's coffee crop will hit a record high, taking a large step towards meeting an ambitious government target, boosted by weather improvements and official support measures.

The Tanzanian coffee harvest - an important earner for the east African country, which relies on agriculture for some 28% of its economic output will hit 1.25m bags in 2015-16, on a July-to-June basis, US Department of Agriculture regional staff said in a report.

That would represent a rise of 100,000 bags year on year, and get the harvest within striking distance of a government target of increasing output to 80,000 tonnes (1.33m bags) by 2016, and 100,000 tonnes (1.67m bags) by 2021.

Output at this level would lift Tanzanian exports to 1.22m bags, also a record high, and up 25% year on year.

The USDA report said that the enhanced production prospects reflected "improved husbandry practices" being encouraged by government measures to boost agronomic practices and investment in a sector dominated by low-scale farmers,

"Favourable" conditions have boosted production prospects too, in a country where "erratic weather, due to climate change remains an underlying threat to sustainable coffee production".

Can the upward trend last?

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether Tanzania will achieve its 2016 target, which would require a third successive year of production growth a feat not achieved since the 1960s.

The harvest of arabica coffee, which accounts for a little over half Tanzanian output, has historically shown the same tendency for alternate years of higher and lower crops also shown in some other producing countries, notably Brazil.

Rabobank analysts noted last year that while Tanzania had the "potential to significantly increase production and improve the quality of its beans, considerable amounts of red tape", introduced as part of the government drive to boost output, were curtailing progress.

The bank cited measures including a ban on direct cherry sales from farmers to the big coffee houses, such as Ecom, Neumann and Volcafe active in the country, and limits too on the presence these traders can have in the processing chain.

The 450,000 smallholders who account for some 95% of Tanzanian coffee output achieve an average coffee yield of some 0.4 kilogrammes per trees, a result which "can he increased to 2.5 kilogrammes under the right conditions", the bank added.

'Numerous challenges'

The USDA report also forecast a recovery in coffee output in Uganda by 250,000 bags to 3.80m bags in 2015-16, on an October-to-September basis, after a dent to this season's result from drought.

A government-backed programme to boost output from use of better husbandry and planting of trees from improved stock was also helping prospects.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority hopes to lift domestic output to 4.5m bags a year.

Meanwhile, Kenyan production was seen holding steady at 900,000 bags, with the loss of plantations around Nairobi to real estate development offset by officially-based moves to expand elsewhere, notably in the Northern Rift Valley, Coast and Western Kenya regions.

"Nevertheless, coffee production continues to face numerous challenges including: high cost of labour and inputs; erratic rains; high incidences of pests and diseases; competition from other farm enterprises; and poor governance of farmer organisations," USDA staff said.

Combined performance

The USDA estimates for the three countries combined peg coffee output at a 16-year high of 5.95m bags in 2015-16.

Total coffee exports will hit 5.58m bags, also the highest since 1999-00.

However, the data exclude statistics from Ethiopia, the continent's biggest coffee growing country.

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