History of coffee in Ecuador

The origin of coffee in Ecuador

Coffee was introduced to Ecuador in the early nineteenth century and remained one of Ecuador's top export crops during the 1970s. (Today, the largest exports are oil, shrimp, and bananas.) Ecuador produces Arabica coffee in the western foothills of the Andes south of Guayaquil and in the hilly areas of the coastal province of Manabí. Some varieties of Robusta, used for soluble (instant) coffee, are grown in the north. Most Ecuadorian coffees are grown on small farms, from 1 to 10 hectares. Approximately half of the coffee land is dedicated to coffee only, while the rest is grown together with cocoa, citrus fruits, bananas or mangoes.

The decline of Ecuadorian coffee

The decline in Ecuadorian coffeeproduction began in the 1980s, when the amount of land in cultivation began to decline because coffee was often unharvested due to low prices. In terms of world coffee production, Ecuador now accounts for less than 1%. Coffee revenues have also declined, especially given that international prices were relatively low during this period and often fell below the cost of production.


Little assistance has been provided to farmers to address the problems of the failing coffee industry. Very low yields, estimated at 5 to 6 quintiles per hectare per year, are about half those of other countries (which average 11 quintiles per hectare.) While the Ecuadorian government supported the formation of COFENAC, the National Coffee Council (Consejo Cafetalero Nacional), and allowed it to impose a 2% surcharge on all coffee exports, small farmers complain that they see few benefits. Despite its mission statement, COFENAC has not provided the training, technology transfer, agricultural credits or producer support that most observers demand.

Coffee imports into Ecuador

Instead, it can be argued that COFENAC is actually contributing to a reduction in Ecuadorian coffee quality and market access. More interested in brokering coffee sales than improving production, COFENAC has approved the importation of 100,000 quintiles of Vietnamese coffee to supply immediate coffee production in Ecuador. In a stunning example of the irrationality of corporate-led globalization, Ecuador's coffee barons found it more profitable to import cheap, low-quality coffee from Vietnam (burning countless barrels of fossil fuel in the process) than to pay a fair price to local Ecuadorian small farmers. This short-sighted policy, while perhaps achieving immediate gains, has encouraged Ecuador's soluble and whole-bean coffee exports to fall from 3% in 2000 to 1% in 2001 and 2002.

Coffee rots on the bush

About half a million people depend on coffee for their livelihood in Ecuador, about 1 in every 8 farmers and their families. Theextreme poverty of small coffee farmers is a reality and has led to the abandonment of many coffee plantations. Many poor farmers have migrated to Spain, Italy and the USA to seek work and survival. Pest problems caused by leaving coffee to rot on the bush because prices are too low to cover the harvest are something that struggling coffee farmers are trying to overcome.