Where the economics of specialty work

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Price (USD/kg)


Key facts

Growing regions: Coffee can be grown all over Ecuador, from the Northern provinces of Carchi and Pichincha to the Galapagos Islands. Manabí on the coast the most traditional producing province and Loja, El Oro and Zamora-Chinchipe in the South are better known for quality
Typical harvest: March to October with a peak around June to August
Average altitude: Most farms sit between 1.200 to 2.100 m above sea level
Soil: Red, fertile and loamy, from clay-loam to sandy-loam 
Climate: Humid tropical, with mild temperatures at higher altitudes
Varieties (Arabica): Mainly Typica, Bourbon and Caturra and more recently Sidra and Typica Mejorado
Processing methods: Mainly fully washed. Farmers pulp and ferment the cherries themselves and sell dry parchment to co-ops and exporters
Average farm size: From less than 1 hectare (62% of coffee farmers) to 1-5 hectares (33%) and above 5 hectares (5%)
Cultivated area: 60,000 hectares
Number of farmers: 60,000
Yearly production: Around 260,000 bags (2020)
Yield: Low, 310 kg per hectare on average

As diverse in microclimates as in bird species
Ecuador, a small South American country that borders Colombia and Peru, is mostly known to the world as one of the most diverse countries on the globe, with almost as many bird species as Brazil despite being 30 times smaller, and home to the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Despite having ideal conditions for the cultivation of coffee all around the country, the sector is not of major importance to Ecuador’s economy, lagging behind other exports such as bananas, shrimps and mainly oil.

The country is divided into three regions: the coast, the Andean mountains and the Amazon. Arabica was introduced in the early 1800s in the coastal province of Manabí and Robusta arrived in Ecuador much later, in 1951, in the province of Los Ríos. Despite the country’s diverse environmental conditions with varied topography, biodiversity and microclimates, it is the Ecuadorian economy and its history that makes the local supply chain so interesting.

A crisis that nearly killed Ecuadorian coffee
After cacao, coffee was one of Ecuador’s main agricultural products for over 100 years. The sector boomed in the 1970s and a record number of 2 million bags was exported in 1994. However, an economic and political crisis in the late 90s killed the competitiveness of Ecuadorian coffee in the international market. The crisis came to a head with a coup d’état and the replacement by the sucre for the American dollar. Around the same time, coffee prices sunk due to the collapse of the ICA (International Coffee Agreement) in 1989, Vietnam surged as a major producer of robusta, and the El Niño of 97-98 crushed the country’s agricultural production.

José Eguiguren of Hacienda Santa Gertrudis, a third-generation coffee farmer in the Loja province, remembers that coffee production nearly disappeared after the 1990s. “The currency change to the dollar made coffee production a lot more expensive if compared to our neighbours in Colombia or Brazil. Then we had the Vietnam crisis in 1996, which dropped the commodity prices even further… We couldn’t cover our costs! Many farmers cut their trees and exports went from 2 million bags to less than 500,000”, he says.

A rebirth in specialty with prices that work
In the early 2000s, a small number of producers organised themselves into associations such as FAPECAFES (Federación Regional de Asociaciones de Pequeños Cafetaleros Ecológicos del Sur del Ecuador). Others, like Jose’s father, simply abandoned coffee. But things are changing again. With the rise of the specialty coffee market and buyers willing to pay higher prices for quality, Ecuadorian coffee is becoming more competitive again. With fertile volcanic soils, agroforestry systems, a big percentage of coffee being grown in altitudes from 1.200 m to above 2.000 m above sea level, and varieties that yield good cup profiles, the country has everything that specialty roasters are looking for.

Today, Ecuadorian specialty coffee is largely traded on fixed prices that bear little relation to the commodity exchange. “We don’t sell coffee priced with differentials”, Jose explains. “This means we don’t sell a lot of coffee and our market is smaller but we can sell at profitable rates. There is a sense of peace in Ecuadorian coffees because farmers are well paid and the minimum wage for workers is US$ 500,00 a month, much higher than our neighbours.”

Ecuadorian sellers have been part of Algrano's marketplace since 2021. Our local partners, Hacienda Santa Gertrudis and FAPECAFES, are both in the South of the country in the provinces of Loja, El Oro and Zamora-Chinchipe. We found their coffees to be clean and elegant, with crisp acidity, a medium smooth body, with notes of fruits and often florals and spices.

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