Have you seen Ghanaian coffee listed on your local coffee shop’s menu? Probably not. While other African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, have gained respected places in the world of specialty coffee, Ghana isn’t quite there yet.
Once a thriving coffee producer, Ghana’s coffee industry has suffered a dry spell over the last 20 years. But a recent set of government initiatives, combined with a new wave of investment and some innovative entrepreneurs is changing that.
Emerging coffee brands are exploring sustainable farming methods and pioneering social impact schemes to produce fine Robusta. While this species of coffee isn’t usually considered specialty, some Ghanian producers are confident that it is possible to produce high quality Robusta, and that it can help revitalise the nation’s coffee industry.
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The Akuapem area of Ghana. Credit: Asili Coffee
High Potential But Low Coffee Production
Ghana is one of the world’s largest producers of cacao after its West African neighbour Côte d’Ivoire. But Côte d’Ivoire is also a competitive African coffee producer, while Ghana has been left behind in the coffee scene. In 2017, Côte d’Ivoire produced 103,514 tonnes, while Ghana’s annual production was just 727 tonnes. Ghana is currently the third-smallest coffee producer in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Liberia and the Central African Republic.
Coffee was introduced to the country in the 18th century, at the same time as cacao. Ghana was a competitive producer for many years but largely abandoned the crop in the 1980s, in part because of the global collapse in the price of coffee.
Growing concerns over an overdependence on the cacao industry combined with global demand for coffee have triggered government initiatives with a mandate to diversify crops and boost coffee production. Smallholder farmers are also eager to embrace this shift in priorities. Cacao production in Ghana is well-established and it’s a difficult sector to compete in. Coffee offers a promising alternative to small farmers.
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Coffee seedlings at Gold Coast Roasters’ farm in the Volta region of Ghana. Credit: Gold Coast Roasters
Reviving Ghana’s Coffee Industry
Ghana’s government is firmly committed to reviving and modernising the nation’s coffee industry. In 2010 the Coffee Development Project (CDP) invested US$2.8 million into the sector, seeking to boost and revamp the industry over a four-year period. This project resulted in a coffee cultivation area expanded by over 2,500 hectares, with over 4,500 registered farmers and a coffee yield estimated at 2.0 tonnes per hectare in 2014.
The recent creation of the Coffee Federation of Ghana (CFG) is another important milestone in the rebirth of Ghana’s coffee industry. Composed of stakeholders from across the Ghanaian coffee value chain, including producers, processors, retailers, exporters, and consulting companies, the CFG works with the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and other government institutions on projects to develop and strengthen Ghana’s coffee sector. In October 2018, it launched a strategic plan for Ghana’s diversification into coffee production.
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Sampling coffee beans. Credit: Gold Coast Roasters
Most coffee grown in Ghana is Robusta, which flourishes at lower elevations and warmer temperatures than Arabica. Ghana’s highest points are only about 400 meters above sea level, and it has a warm tropical climate that makes it ideal for growing Robusta.
But in the specialty coffee scene, Robusta is massively eclipsed by Arabica. Robusta has a much higher caffeine content than Arabica, which contributes to a flavour often described as bitter or rubbery. Because of this reputation, it’s often dismissed completely by specialty coffee roasters and consumers.
But there are advocates for fine Robusta, who argue that when it is produced, processed, and roasted with a focus on quality, it can be as delicious as some Arabica coffees.
Grading coffee beans. Credit: Gold Coast Roasters
Ghana’s competitive advantage is that Robusta is easier and less expensive to grow in the warm climate. It offers a more resilient alternative to Arabica that could play a key role in meeting rising demand for high-quality coffee in a world increasingly threatened by climate change. Robusta is more pest-resistant, tolerates less favourable soil and climate conditions, and produces a greater yield. It can promise more stability to both coffee farmers and consumers.
It may be difficult to overcome Robusta’s reputation. But Ghana’s new generation of coffee producers and processors are working on improving quality by experimenting with production and processing techniques.
Cillian Walsh is the co-founder of Gold Coast Roasters, a Ghanaian coffee producer and processor. He says, “We are still challenged with [Robusta’s higher] caffeine content… But it doesn’t detract from the flavour that we’re now producing. We’re very optimistic and we see that Robusta is going to gain more and more prominence in the world market going forward. And we really want to be at the heart of this.”
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A roaster at work. Credit: Asili Coffee
Building a Coffee Market
Unlike Ethiopia and many francophone African countries where coffee is widely consumed locally, Ghana mainly considers coffee a cash crop. Until recently, Ghanaian farmers have lacked incentive to produce coffee, with a lack of financial or physical infrastructures in place and no real domestic market.
Ivy Wereh is the founder of Café Magnifico, a Ghanaian coffee manufacturer and roaster. She tells me, “The typical Ghanaian doesn’t know about gourmet coffee. You really have the Arabica on the shelf because of the foreign influx in the country and then a few elite, travelled, exposed Ghanaians.”
But there is a new wave of Ghanaian specialty coffee producers and roasters that aim to create high-quality coffee made in Ghana for Ghanaians. They see the potential for a local market, as well as international export.
John François is the managing director of Asili Coffee, a coffee roastery in Ghana that hopes to improve the quality of locally grown Robusta and encourage more Ghanaian farmers to consider coffee production. “Looking at the silver lining, the lack of mass of activity in the sector could be considered positive, as the opportunity now presents itself for us to install the appropriate structure… to effectively steer towards sustainable long-term growth,” he says.
In this traditionally tea-drinking country, Asili Coffee has created “a new product that is effectively fresh roasted coffee but all you require is hot water” and is “partnering with the local tea stalls.”
Green coffee cherries on the tree. Credit: Gold Coast Roasters
Social & Environmental Sustainability
Many of these new coffee producers in Ghana are committed to bettering the social and economic conditions of their areas. Some are also aiming to produce high-quality coffee that is in line with international environmental sustainability standards and demands.
Asili Coffee is currently working on a model farm project that provides farmers with free land, seedlings, and maintenance funds. Their support also comes with a guarantee they will purchase coffee from the farmers come harvest season. They are also rolling out new products that are priced to be accessible to the average Ghanaian.
Gold Coast Coffee Roasters boasts environmentally aware production, stating that its coffee is “shade grown, bird friendly, inter-cropped and pollinated by bees. Working with local Benedictine monks utilising agro-forestry concepts, we have developed a unique flavour to produce a limited but now highly prized coffee.”
The Coffee Roasters’ Association of Ghana (CRAG) aims to “assist indigenous coffee roasters through the spread of information, education, and technical assistance.” The organisation brings together a new wave of specialty coffee entrepreneurs who are committed to producing and exporting high-grade specialty coffee made in Ghana.
Cooling coffee beans. Credit: Gold Coast Roasters
Ghana is just setting out on its journey to revitalise its coffee industry, and the obstacles are high: lack of infrastructure and access to information for farmers, no local coffee market, and negative global perceptions of Robusta.
But obstacles have the habit of spawning innovative solutions, and a new generation of committed specialty coffee producers and roasters are taking up the challenge. The goal for Ghana’s coffee industry is two-fold: to get Ghanaians to embrace the specialty coffee scene and adopt locally grown and processed coffee, and to bring high-quality Ghanaian Robusta to the world.
John says, “I’m really optimistic. I think we are witnessing the birth of Ghana’s coffee sector.”
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