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Coffee yields require 'step change' to match growing demand

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Coffee production requires a step change in improvement to meet growing demand for beans, which could treble by the end of the century, the head of one of the industry's leading companies said.

Andrea Illy, chairman and chief executive of Italian coffee group Illycaffe, said that demand for coffee, swollen by growing consumption per capita on top of world population growth, would require a large rise in production above current levels, estimated at about 150m bags.

"By the end of the century we will need to produce two or three times as much coffee as we produce now," Mr Illy told the Global Coffee Forum in Milan.

Forecasts for rising demand were also given to the event by the likes of Michael Neumann, former chief executive of Germany's Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, who pegged consumption at 200m bags in 2030.

Roberio Silva, the executive director of the International Coffee Organization, forecast a rise in demand of some 25m bags within a decade, driven by a growing taste for coffee "in emerging markets and producing countries".

While many producing countries have traditionally viewed coffee as an export, there are signs of that changing, with Brazil emerging as the third-ranked market, after the European Union and the US, and rapid growth in Indonesia earning it a place among the top 10 consumers.

'Some countries will become unsuitable'

However, the quest for increased consumption comes against a backdrop of climate change which, for instance appeared evident in Brazil, the top coffee growing nation.

"Brazil is suffering too high temperatures, particularly in January," said Mr Illy, who is also chairman of the International Coffee Organization's promotion and market development committee.

Indeed, warmer climates will make "less land suitable" for growing coffee, he said, forecasting that "some countries will become totally unsuitable for production maybe" - although climate change will make growing coffee possible in some fresh areas.

He envisaged coffee growing potentially spreading into areas further from the equator, besides into higher altitudes.

'Require a discontinuity'

Nonetheless, increasing output against this backdrop required a step change in productivity to avoid a structural shortfall.

"Production growth in the past has been linear," he said.

The industry will now "require a discontinuity" in its production performance to keep up with demand.

There was hope that significant strides could be made through factors including agronomic improvements, and closing the gap in world average yields of 20 kilogrammes per hectare to the 80 kilogrammes per hectare achieved in some parts of Brazil.

Furthermore, the cost of genetically improved coffee trees is "falling fast", with a notable reduction in costs even to when Colombia undertook its massive replanting programme around the turn of the decade, to counter coffee rust.

Separately, Guilherme Braga, executive director of Cecafe, the Brazilian coffee exporters' industry group, said that Brazil had achieved a doubling in its coffee yields, in part through a strategy which has increased tree planting densities.

By Mike Verdin, in Milan

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