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India’s coffee exports look up as the world runs short of the beverage

A recovery in demand in Europe, where cafes are reopening, and lower than expected output in Brazil bode well for India’s coffee growers this year.

August 07, 2021 / 07:39 AM IST
Representational image. India exports over 70 percent of the coffee it produces. (Source: ShutterStock)

Representational image. India exports over 70 percent of the coffee it produces. (Source: ShutterStock)

A bumper harvest of coffee will help India to recover lost ground in exports amid fears of a global shortage and higher prices triggered by a crop shortfall in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer.

India exports over 70 percent of its coffee production.

The price of arabica coffee futures, a global benchmark, hit a seven-year high of $2.07 per pound towards the end of July as severe frost hit coffee plantations in Brazil, which had already expected a lower crop because 2021 is an off-year for the country’s production. Although prices have eased to about $1.76 per pound, they are still 40 percent higher than at the start of the year.

India’s coffee production was 12 percent higher at 334,000 tonnes in 2020-21, according to data from the Coffee Board. Almost 70 percent of India’s production is robusta coffee, which increased 11 percent from the previous year to 235,000 tonnes. Arabica crop output in India has stagnated in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 tonnes.

Robusta coffee prices rose in tandem with arabica prices in July, crossing the $2,000 per tonne mark. It hovers at about $1,770 per tonne at present.

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“If the prices continue to remain high, it will be a good year for Indian coffee exports. Already we have shipped more coffee than last year, which was bad for the industry with the outbreak of Covid-19,” said Ramesh Rajah, president of the Coffee Exporters’ Association.

India’s coffee exports climbed 10 percent to 226,177 tonnes in the January 1 to August 5 period from a year earlier. In Europe, the main export destination for Indian coffee, out-of-home consumption was hit badly by the pandemic in 2020. Italy, Germany and Belgium are the top three buyers of Indian coffee.

“More cafes are opening up and the situation is improving gradually in the European countries. The government has targeted $1 billion in export of coffee, which is tough. We achieved around $750 million in 2020,” Rajah said.

India’s coffee exports dropped 12 percent to 306,387 tonnes in 2020, one of the lowest in recent times.

However, increasing freight charges and the lack of empty containers continue to worry exporters, although the situation isn’t as bad as it was last year. According to some exporters, freight charges to Europe from Vietnam and Indonesia, two major robusta coffee producers, are higher than from India at present. India also has the advantage of being able to access containers used for importing raw cashew to export coffee.

Coffee growers are holding on to their stock, expecting prices to go up further.

“It has become difficult to source coffee beans for processing and export from both world and domestic markets. While there is a shortage of arabica beans, robusta growers are not selling much in anticipation of higher prices,” said N. Sathappan, director of SLN Coffee, based in Coorg.

With insufficient availability of arabica, blenders may use more robusta, which could be good for Asian countries. India’s stock of arabica is virtually over while growers still hold robusta, which they may release as prices go up.

“We expect a higher robusta crop next year too as the plantations have received good summer rains,” said T.T. John, a member of the Coffee Board. “If there is no unusually heavy rainfall during this monsoon, then the robusta output may go up by 15 percent.”

Coffee Board’s post-blossom estimate for 2021-22 pegs output at 369,000 tonnes, of which 260,700 tonnes would be of the robusta variety.

Producers expect coffee prices to remain high in the short to medium term as output will trail consumption. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast world coffee production for 2021/22 will decline by 11 million bags (each bag of 60 kg) to 164.8 million due to the combined effect of the off‐year of the biennial production cycle and adverse weather in Brazil.

The USDA predicted global consumption of coffee to rise by 1.8 million bags to 165 million bags, with the largest gains from the European Union, the US and Brazil.
PK Krishnakumar is a journalist based in Kochi.
first published: Aug 7, 2021 07:39 am

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