Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

This is a great report USAID did in 2005. This is copied and pasted from the .PDF file sent to my by my Yemeni coffee contact, so the layout is a bit screwy. Because the PDF file was huge, I created this html page.Below is just the first section of the report, as the later sections get into a lot of statistics of production and exportation. It is here in the first section that some really accurate and insightful comments are made about the state of Yemen coffee. -Tom I added some picture from my Yemen trip to liven things up here. Clicking on the images will take you to my Yemen travelogue.

Main Author: Daniele Giovannucci

Yemen’s coffee is distinctive. In a world of increasing homogenization and commoditization, it stands out as a potent relic of uniqueness. This is at once both the source of its difficulties and the source of its success. Yemen is one of the most historic coffee-producing nations, having launched the trade of what has become one of the world’s most important agricultural commodities. Yemen’s coffee farmers still practice traditional natural methods—sometimes at very high altitudes up to 2,500 m—that result in low production yields and distinctive flavors. Some of Yemen’s coffees are prized around the world and receive among the highest prices in the marketplace. Despite the high market price, most coffee farmers are poor. Low productivity is exacerbated by water shortage that, along with inadequate post-harvest methods, contributes to low quality in many areas and subsequent high levels of lost value.

Yemeni coffee is in many ways distinct and even mysterious. Its varietals are the subject of much discussion and could be among the oldest genotypes in existence. No one is certain if the many local names are the unique product of centuries of isolation or whether these are simply minor variations of a few major types. Its markets value an infusion beverage made from coffee husks (qesher), thereby transforming what is considered elsewhere a by-product or a nuisance into a product of value. Yemen is unique among producer countries in that it consumes about three-fourths of its total production. Yemen faces a number of stark challenges and yet has significant opportunities to sustainably improve producer incomes and expand its trade. Most of all, water scarcity is the single pivotal factor that will ultimately determine the success of any efforts in the sector. It must therefore be carefully considered in every strategy or choice. The failure to adequately characterize the many coffee varieties has affected the growing and grading process as well as the marketing and exporting process.

Farmers are consequently unable to select varieties that are most adequate to their needs (e.g., drought resistant), since it is not altogether clear what the characteristics of the varieties are and what variety a farmer is getting from government nurseries. Inadequate coffee cultivation technology and largely ineffective extension leave the farmers unable to capture considerable additional value from their crops. Poor processing infrastructure, primarily for drying and hulling, tend to further reduce quality and diminish incomes. Farming in Yemen is not easy. Very few crops have an export value. Coffee, however, is quite unique and cannot only provide valuable income but also serve as a considerable and respected “ambassador” for the nation’s reputation worldwide. Coffee is one of Yemen’s most important agricultural commodities. Most of Yemen’s nearly 100,000 coffee farming families have small coffee plots and live in mountainous regions where about 45% of the population is considered below the poverty line (US $2/day). Coffee is second only to the mildly narcotic qat plant in providing one of the few reliable sources of cash income. Sound data for coffee production and marketing is hard to come by, and even though a recent census improves the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation’s (MAI’s) ability in this area, it still lacks up-to-date sampling for key variables such as yields to make more accurate estimates.

Nevertheless, it is clear that production inefficiencies, low productivity, and market distortions have elevated the domestic price to such an extent that it is apparently quite viable to illegally import coffees from lower- cost origins (e.g., Brazil, Ethiopia, India) in order to fulfill a measure of the domestic demand. These illegal coffees can now be found even in small markets and remote towns. Since the increasing import of foreign coffees is undoubtedly the most common lament of those in the coffee sector, the policy to address this merits careful consideration. These imported coffees drive down the prices in the market. On one hand, the ineffective regulation of imports serves to negatively affect the government’s credibility and deprives it of potential tax revenue. On the other hand, domestic producers and traders are so weak, in terms of their international counterparts, that without some measure of protection, many would be likely to stop producing. Clearly, in light of Yemen’s declared intent to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), the coffee sector cannot be indefinitely protected with import restrictions. However, there is ample opportunity to immediately implement targeted interventions and improve domestic policies in order to significantly increase the competitiveness of Yemen’s coffee sector.

One of the most important ways is for Yemen to protect the historic and hard-earned credibility of its coffee as a “brand” name. Yemen has already lost much of its connection to the popular "Mocha" or “Moka” term that identified Yemen’s unique coffees that were mostly shipped from its port of Al-Mokha. Today a number of coffees call themselves Mocha and even some Yemeni exporters contribute to the erosion of its reputation by blending its coffee with inferior imported coffees and exporting it as Yemeni. However, there is considerable scope to recover this and other more proprietary terms that could have enormous value in the marketplace. This is especially timely in light of market developments over the last decade that have created a much larger demand for uniquely differentiated coffees such as those grown in Yemen.

More than most countries, Yemen lends itself to differentiation based on unique flavors and corresponding agro-ecological zones. In light of recent events in both Europe and the US protecting the distinctive names and origins of developing countries, such Denominations of Origin can help Yemen to establish and take full advantage of its unique national and regional characteristics, such as those of Mattari, Harazi, or Ismaeli. The current Yemeni market structure is neither well regulated nor transparent so that any newcomer wishing to trade faces serious risks. There is no coherent grading system and standards are loose and typically defined at the local level on an ad hoc basis. This increases transaction costs and distorts value throughout the supply chain. The result makes most foreign buyers wary of dealing with any but the few more established exporters. One of the obvious consequences is a reduced willingness to invest in the marketing of Yemeni coffee.


2004 Average 1996-2003 Number of producers n/a a 99,056 households b Est. annual production 10,977 tons 11,225 tons Land area for coffee 28,144 ha 32,500 ha Exports 3,000 tons 3,988 tons Source: Estimates from Agricultural Statistical Year Books 1995, 2000, 2004 and government interviews. a. Estimations point to modest reduction of coffee farmers. B. Figure for year 2000 last census.


There has been considerable discussion and study of Yemen’s coffee sector over the years. Making tangible progress requires a concerted initiative of the key stakeholders to agree on a common strategy and to prioritize practical investments and policy improvements. The first step is to convene the important actors, including farmer representatives, traders, and foreign buyers to determine common interests and a concrete plan of action. This must be a "Business Meeting" with practical and implementable outcomes and not merely a discussion, workshop, or conference. The outcome will most likely address interventions at the key leverage points and focus on appropriate sequencing to ensure maximum short-term impact in order to generate momentum for the more difficult adjustments that will unfold over the next three to six years.

First and foremost, the unique flavor characteristics of Yemen’s coffees must be preserved. Improving cultivars and cultivation methods can affect flavors and so it is of paramount importance to consider any changes with this caveat in mind. In the short term, the supply chain will greatly benefit from improved post-harvest technologies. These can include simple infrastructure to dry the coffee cherries and improved hulling equipment to reduce bean breakage. A Coffee Board—including interested buyers—can be appointed to help guide the implementation of a coffee strategy and international marketing. In the mid term, producers will require simple local infrastructure (e.g., protected in-ground storage tanks, pipe and channels, drip systems) for water conservation and the training to manage water use in each community. The inclusion of participatory training in improved cultivation methods while simultaneously training on water use, can easily lead to significant productivity improvements for most farmers and reduced project costs.

In order to improve farmer productivity, reduce risk, and also increase market efficiency, the fledgling efforts1 to develop a systematic understanding and characterization of Yemen’s coffee varieties can be supported and improved with international exchange, i.e., Colombia’s Cenicafé, and a focus on practical farmer-relevant and market-oriented research. This will determine what varieties have market advantages, such as the morphology and flavor as well as production advantages, such as drought tolerance and high yield. Subsequently, in the mid to long term, the identified varietals can be subject to improvement through breeding or grafting methods, neither of which are currently utilized. Investments in private sector nurseries can then facilitate plant multiplication and dissemination.

As varietal identification and grading capacity improves, it may be useful to create the institutional and legal structure capable of monitoring the quality of Yemen’s exports and supporting its international reputation. A representative Coffee Board or similar institution can also facilitate overseas marketing in close cooperation with the private sector. One of the most enduring approaches to competitiveness would be the development of a controlled Denominations of Origin program in cooperation with foreign buyers and the international coffee community (e.g., International Coffee Organization [ICO], Specialty Coffee Association of America [SCAA], European Cooperation Fund [ECF], etc.).


Yemen’s coffee is distinctive; it has never been homogenized or commoditized and over the centuries its cultivation and processing have changed little. While trends analyses in other coffee-growing regions of the world indicate that coffee production today exists in a new business environment—one that has sophisticated logistics and increasing quality requirements, Yemen may be one of the very few exceptions to that trend. Coffee trees in Yemen. incomparable character of its coffee and its long- established relationships have allowed it to continue in time-honored ways without many of the demands of modern trade such as strict quality controls, product identification, and globally induced price pressures. In fact, Yemen could be considered one of the more successful coffee origins in terms of both its fame and the price that is consistently paid for its coffees. At the international level, Mocha is perhaps the most confusing name in the coffee lexicon. In the 17th and 18th centuries, only a very few countries cultivated coffee and Yemen was perhaps the leading producer. When coffee emerged from being a local product to flow into the channels of international trade, one of the premier shipping points was Yemen’s ancient port of Al-Mokha at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Mocha became a synonym for a particular and potent coffee that emerged from the altitudes of Yemen’s mountain ranges. Its characteristics were particularly well suited for blending with the more buttery smoothness of Javanese coffee and thus emerged the world’s most popular blend of coffee: Mocha Java. Today, since neither name is well protected, this term is used for a broad range of blends that usually do not come from either Yemen or Java. Most Yemeni coffee is harvested from ancient types of coffea arabica that have evolved locally for centuries and are practically grown nowhere else in the world.

There are dozens of local names for the different coffee varieties and while they share some common characteristics they also can look and taste different from each other. In many cases, the varietal tree names have never been systematically characterized or documented and are identified primarily within the rich oral traditions of each region. The names of Yemen’s distinct local coffees are irregular. They can indicate the district, variety of tree, or even the grade (quality). Mocha, Sanani, and Mattari are the most familiar international market names but even these can be somewhat confusing and inconsistently applied, as we will see in the subsequent analysis.

Yemen coffee is still grown much as it has for centuries, in high narrow valleys or on small stone-terraced plots that are carved into semiarid mountainsides. The processing of beans also remains the same: these natural coffee cherries are sun dried and the dried husk is later removed by millstone. The beans are small, quite irregular and the level of breakage is high. In 2004, 15 of Yemen’s provinces or governorates produced coffee, but only 12 did so in significant quantities. For the past nine years, ending in 2004, official records indicate an average annual production of 11,198 tons. Table 1.1 illustrates the acreage and official production volume for each province or governorate over the last nine years.

The first census in more than a decade, in 2004, enabled statisticians to make a number of improvements on the annual estimates that were based on core data of the previous census. Accordingly, provinces such as Sada’ and Mahweet show considerable changes that most likely were either due to poor data or occurred gradually over time but appear to be abrupt because of the 2004 adjustment.

Estimates of the number of coffee farmers in Yemen vary. One published website estimated the number to be more than 400,000. If considering the number of people who are directly dependent on coffee income, then this number would actually be very conservative. The number of rural persons (estimating the average nuclear family size of 6.5) that are directly dependent on coffee cultivation income would be approximately 640,000. However, the total number of coffee farm households is estimated to be 99,056.2 The coffee industry also employs some seasonal labor, middlemen, transporters, processors, and exporters. 1.1


Over the course of centuries the original strains of coffea Arabica have evolved uniquely in the many remote pockets of the Yemeni highlands. Today dozens of local names identify plants whose origins are lost in time. Some like Mattari from the Bani Mattar district and Ismaeli from the Haraz district are well known even in some foreign markets while many are only known or used in local areas. There is no clear understanding of their provenance and little is known about what exactly differentiates the many types. It is clear that various local types have characteristic physical commonalities that could be classed together. Leading researchers in the field disagree about which landraces may be the progenitors and how many there actually are. Researchers have concluded different numbers but most seem to agree on four main varieties: Udaini, Dawairi, Tufahi and Bura’ai. According to “Surveying and Classifying Coffee in Yemen” (Ali Mukrid Qaid 1993), most of the Yemeni coffee plants may belong to these four main varieties. The Coffee Research Unit of the Ministry based in Taiz, indicates a potential fifth basic variety called Abu Sura. In 2004, Al-Hakimi and Allard (2005) concluded that there were six main varieties in Yemen. Many of the local types tend to most resemble the Udaini variety, leading to speculation that this variety may well be the oldest coffee landrace in Yemen. Recent efforts by the MAI’s Coffee Department, Agricultural Research Authority, and its regional research stations, and the Genetics Origins Center of Sana’a University are beginning to build the data for these plants in order to create a solid taxonomy. However, there is inadequate scientific effort to identify the characteristics that would be most desirable for either the farmers (e.g., drought tolerant, pest resistant, high yielding, etc.) or the marketplace (e.g., bean morphology/hardness and flavor characteristics). Table 1.2 notes some recognized characteristics.

TABLE 1.2.

BASIC CHARACTERISTICS OF PRIMARY LANDRACES Variety Height (m) Fruits Foliage Shape Production Dawairi 1-4 Large rounded Rounded Year around Tufahi 2-6 Large apple-shape Elongated Alternative years Udaini 2-4 Medium rounded or flat Pendulous Once a year Burra’i 1-3 Medium large round to ovaloid Pyramid Year around Dawairi thrives in the lower altitudes and is found up to 1,700 m. Tufahi has a somewhat broader range and is found up to 2,000 m. Udaini is commonly found in the mid to higher altitudes up to the range of 2,000 m. Bura’ai tolerates higher altitudes well and can reportedly be found as high as 2,500 m.

TABLE 1.3.

VARIETIES AND LOCAL TYPES GROWN BY PROVINCE (GOVERNORATE) GOVERNORATE VARIETIES AND LOCAL TYPE NAMES Sana’a Mattari, Dawairi, Dawarani, Tufahi, Shubriqi, Harazi, Ismaili, Ja’adi, Hawri, Hubriqik, Shubrizi, Haimi, Sanani Sada Dawairi, Tufahi, Udaini, Kholani Mahweet Mahwaiti, Tufahi, Burrai, Udaini, Dawarani, Melhani, Hufashi Hajah Shani, Safi, Masrahi, Shami, Bazi, Methani, Jua’ari Amran Udaini, Tufahi, Ismaeli, Dawairi, Gu’adi Dhamar Dawarani, Ja’adi, Tufahi, Udaini, Fadli, Ja’adi, Sharafi, Ibb Udaini, Sa’afani Taiz Hammadi, Udaini, Tufahi, Dawairi, Melhani, Hufashi Hodeidah Dawairi, Tufahi, Sughari, Kubari, Udaini, Ja’adi, Jadi Shubriqi, Bura’ai, Bura’i Hufaini, Hufashi, Jabal Rass Lahj Yafei’ Abyan Essai, Qudi, Banan and Tasawai, Yafei Dhale’ Yafei’, Lodeas Madhghood and Hawla Madhghood Raymah Raymi, Dawairi, Bura’ae, Kubari, Tufahi, Udaini Al Bayda Yafei’ Marib Essaei 1.2


Environmental Issues

Yemen is situated in the northerly tropics and is mostly arid and semi-arid. Typically high temperatures can top 40° C in many areas but decrease to temperate levels in the highland and mountainous areas where most of the coffee is produced. Rainfall is highly erratic and occurs in two periods: from March through May and more heavily from July through September. Coffee, as an agricultural crop around the world, is relatively benign and can thrive in biodiverse forest settings as part of a forest. In other parts of the world, varietals have been developed to endure more open sun in order to be more productive. In fact, when interplanted with companion crops and well managed, it can be a functional part of a healthy ecosystem. It appears that many of Yemen’s varietals can thrive under a measure of shade.

When the forest canopy is actively managed, shading trees that are commonly used are tall canopy trees such as Breonadia salicina (Tharah), Ficus vasta (Tawlaq), Jatropa curcas (Habat Alfil), Ricinus commuinis (Tubshu’), and Curdia africana Lam. (Tanab). However, in most cases the tree cover is more random and rarely pruned or managed. Due to extensive poverty, agrochemical inputs are uncommon and soil or environmental contamination appears to be rare. As with most naturally dried coffees, water-based depulping does not occur, thus eliminating another common source of potential contamination of waterways.

1.2.2 Water Resources Rainfall is the main source for coffee irrigation.

Apart from the season from March until August, rain is rare throughout the rest of the year in most areas. In coffee-growing regions, the annual rainfall levels range from 455 mm in the Sana’a Highlands up to 1,500 mm in Ibb and some parts of Al-Mahweet Province. But the averages are lower in many areas (see Figure 1.1). According to the Coffee Department, newly planted coffee trees need at least 18-28 waterings in the first year, and if well established, can manage well with 10 times per year as they grow older. During the dry season, additional sources of water are necessary to meet the trees’ requirements in most cases. Ba-Matraf (1992) indicates that about 66% of the coffee-growing areas have some source of irrigation beyond rainfall, primarily seasonal streams and some wells. But such sources, particularly wells, are increasingly unreliable. In most of Yemen, water is a major limitation.

The amount of renewable water available per capita is approximately 12% of the average in the Middle East and North African region. There are no significant natural bodies of fresh water or permanently flowing rivers. The availability of water is clearly the major constraint to agricultural production, and agriculture accounts for about 90% of Yemen’s water use (Kohler 2000). Many farmers depend on deep underground water that is mostly nonrenewable and the stocks of which are being rapidly depleted. Over centuries, water rights have been well established between farmers in many areas yet there is relatively little evidence of conservation practices, despite chronic shortages in most areas. In fact one expert (Kohler 2000) notes that traditional methods are inappropriate in the face of modern extraction and containment technology and indeed serve to promote overuse of this very limited resource.

Mountain coffee terraces at 2,100 meters. 1.2.3 Soils and Inputs Only about 3% of Yemen’s territory is considered arable land. Soils tend to be sandy and silty in the lowlands and coastal plains whereas in the highlands they are typically shallow and loamy with clay and silt. Soils tend to be quite alkaline with slow mineral absorption. There is considerable soil erosion due to high winds, precipitous slopes, and limited tree or shrub coverage. Typically, alkaline soils also are deficient in key nutrients and organic matter. This is exacerbated in irrigated areas where salinity is often a problem. One of Yemen’s greatest causes for concern with crops is the persistent extraction of nutrients from the soils without returning much of the organic matter and nutrients as part of cultivation and soil management practices.

This “soil mining” occurs especially in areas irrigated with subterranean water. Active fertilization practices are not commonplace. Urea is the most common but is applied in modest quantities, typically less than 100 kg per hectare. Wealthier farmers and those who have access to sufficient irrigation water may apply some regular non-organic fertilizers. Apart from modest applications of green and animal manure, most of the soil fertilization in coffee areas appears to come from the silt deposits that are carried in seasonal flood waters or erosion flowing down from mountain slopes. In some areas, farmers have developed practical methods for both protecting the soil and conserving its moisture. In Yemen’s semi-arid, steep and rocky terrain, mulching with small stones and gravel can be quite useful. Some farmers plant trees in shallow stone-lined depressions and these holes are connected to each other via small tunnels to ensure the even dispersion of water among the trees. Nurseries have been developed in 11 areas across the coffee-growing regions to provide seedlings, initially at no cost and now for a nominal fee of YR 50 or US $0.23 each.

While these nurseries appear to be producing adequate quantities to meet current demand, they are failing to offer a significant extra value that could likely increase the demand for trees and improve their viability and productivity. For example, there is little selection for characteristics such as drought resistance and no self-propagation so that the nurseries are dependent on seeds from farmers and can therefore be subject to diseases or random weaknesses that could prove disastrous for a farmer. There is usually no reliable control for varietals so a farmer does not know what his new purchased seedling will bring.

This of course is in part caused by the lack of a clear and well- defined characterization and classification or taxonomy of the coffee varieties in Yemen. 1.2.4 Production Potential More than 95% of Yemen’s coffee is produced in 10 of its western provinces (see Annex 2). Most coffee is produced either in the narrow populated valleys or on steep mountain terraces. The availability of land that is suitable for cultivation is limited. The overall production potential is limited primarily by lack of regular water supply and secondarily by poor cultivation and resource management practices. Yet, there is certainly room for a significant increase in production volumes. However, any increases will have to come from more intensive and— importantly—more resource-efficient methods and not from using more water or more land.

Although drought and crop substitution (with qat primarily and also some food crops) probably impact the annual changes in production considerably, this is difficult to estimate since the data for nearly a decade has been the result of general field estimations without the benefit of a census. The 2004 census improves the MAI’s ability to calculate figures but it still lacks up-to-date sampling for key variables such as yields to make more accurate estimates.


All of Yemen’s coffees are hand picked, with pickers visiting a tree about three to five times in a season. Producers will often harvest the green and black cherries, particularly late in the season, knowing that even though these will provide poor quality beans, they will nevertheless contribute to the overall weight. It is the weight of their coffee harvest that most determines what they are paid. There is some differential for coffee cherries that are ripe, properly dried, and well formed but in most cases this is unreliable and never more than 10 to 20%. Farmers have little access to the necessary skills, infrastructure, and technology to make such improvements and therefore may not feel that it is economically feasible to improve their quality levels. Quality control is typically left up to the coffee mill or exporter at which point they are powerless to improve it except by removing beans through sorting, cleaning, and grading. At this final pre-export stage, low-quality coffee is separated and re-sold at a discount on the domestic or regional market. The vast majority of coffee cherries are sun dried in the open air. Most farmers use the flat roofs of their homes. Space is often inadequate and farmers are obliged to pile the cherries several layers deep.

Since few adopt the practice of turning or rotating the mass of cherries, drying time is increased as are the likelihood of uneven drying, mold, and fermentation. Simple wood-frame mechanical coffee dryers were successfully tested in the Taiz area (see photo) but due to lack of funding, the project was reportedly canceled. The devices appear simple and it is difficult to comprehend why they cost $1,400 each. Unfortunately, there is no evidence yet of the use of solar-powered dryers. Storage and transport of coffees does not seem to be a problem except for some of the remote farmers. Traders and wholesalers have warehouses that are usually located near to the main thoroughfares of towns and these are adequate facilities that typically do not store other products that could contaminate the coffee. The dried cherries are usually hulled by larger traders or wholesalers and only rarely by farmers. Many use a simple unit with stone grinding wheels that is powered by an electric motor. All of the ones inspected during field visits were problematic and not well calibrated. This results in a significant number of broken beans and occurs in part due to the equipment and in part because of the common absence of operator know-how.3 For example, both large and small cherries fed into the unit without sorting result in the smaller cherries being hulled and some of the larger ones being broken.


Since poverty is greatly exacerbated by volatility and unexpected difficulties, managing risk is vital for most farmers. There are several ways to do this and one of the most effective is to diversify crops. While many farmers already cultivate multiple crops on their land, only a few actually intercrop beneficial varieties within their coffee plants. This can be done freely when coffee plants are smaller (within their first 4 to 5 years) to improve soils, control pests, and increase nutrients (green manure). Some interplant other tree species that are not beneficial to the coffee (e.g., not nitrogen fixing) and do not manage these well so that large dense trees like mangos soon provide too much shading and reduce crop size while their fruit fall and harvest processes easily damage coffee trees. In spite of the semi-arid growing environment, a number of fungi and pests attack the coffee trees, affecting both quantity and the quality of the output. Most farmers have neither the resources nor the inclination to use purchased agrochemicals and rely on only a few traditional methods of control. According to researchers in the MAI, crop losses are considerable but there are no clear estimations of how large they may be. Farmers certainly mention them but rarely as a top priority.

The MAI claim that their key pests and diseases are: • Coffee leaf miner (Perileucoptera cofeella), • Coffee Rust (Hemileia Vastatrix), • Coffee Berry Moth (Prophantis Smaragdina), • Black Stem Borer (Apate monachus), and • White Grub Beetle (Phyllophaga sp.). In 2004-2005, the government launched an experimental disease control project that is based on traditional methods. It was conducted in three areas: Talooq Wadi (Taiz), Yahir (Lahj), and Turfah Wadi (Dhamar).

The initial results of this project were promising and are currently being analyzed to determine whether these approaches would be useful for other coffee-growing areas. Many farmers have increasingly turned to farming what has become Yemen’s most popular cash crop: qat (Catha edulis forssk). The qat (or khat) plant is a mildly narcotic shrub that is chewed and retained in the mouth. It is extremely popular, particularly among men as a social custom, and is increasingly used outside of social gatherings as a mild stimulant. Today it is quite common to see men at any time of the day and even while at work with a protruding cheek full of chewed leaves. Its widespread popularity makes it a profitable cash crop. Statistics indicate that the area planted to qat well exceeds 120,000 ha while coffee has shrunk to less than 30,000 ha. After a small increase, possibly fueled by higher world prices in the mid-1990s, coffee has declined in cultivated area. In the recent 2004 census, it was estimated that there were 28,100 ha of coffee. In 2005 it is expected that Yemen’s coffee area may shrink to one of the lowest points in recent history and there will be less than 28,000 ha of coffee in Yemen.

(statistical sections omitted)

1.9 YEMEN’S COMPETITIVENESS AND ITS EXPORT MARKETS Yemen’s export markets for coffee are based primarily on one simple factor: its unique taste. Gulf region neighbors (the Saudis in particular) have long prized the flavor of Yemen’s coffees and are willing to pay premium prices, even for the lower quality supplies. The Saudi Arabian coffee imports are considerable with a total demand of 28,000-30,000 tons that is nearly three times the production of Yemen. Some of the imports are re-exported and it is not clear how much of Yemen’s coffee follows this route or how diluted it becomes. Nevertheless, this perennial Saudi interest creates a market buoyancy in the price and is one of the reasons that prevent the price from falling as much as that of many other coffees. Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the largest consumer of Yemeni coffee. Other major consumer markets include the United States and Japan, where Yemeni coffee’s popularity is also due to its prized flavor.

Buyers are willing to accept small and unevenly sized coffee beans from Yemen that they would be unlikely to accept from most other origins. However, some of the market segments that appreciate Yemen’s flavor appear to be shrinking. Already, sales in Europe have dwindled to a trickle. The reasons for shrinking markets are not altogether clear. Evidence from these markets is mixed. It may be that the price, which is among the highest in the world, creates a barrier. Perhaps consumers are not receiving what they have come to expect; this could be explained by the rumors of lesser coffees being mixed with Yemeni coffees and sold as the latter. Or it may be that its exotic flavors require an introduction or at least better marketing. For now at least, Yemen’s coffees have a unique niche, low visibility, and limited availability in most markets. Given the considerable value of Yemen’s coffee in the international marketplace, it is not surprising that unscrupulous traders and exporters would sell counterfeits.

Not only is Yemeni coffee reportedly diluted with others at transshipment points in other countries, it is apparently also occurring within Yemen’s borders and re-exported. One firm has allegedly been doing it for so long that Yemeni exporters and some government officials are quite familiar with them. Export transactions are reportedly brief, low-cost, and simple. Long ago the Red Sea port of Mocha handled much of the coffee trade. In recent decades the ports of Aden and Hodeida have handled nearly all of the maritime exports while the northern border crossings with Saudi Arabia were the primary land channels. Today, Hodeida has taken over most of the maritime trade. Its proximity to the main growing regions and its investments in containerized trade has made it a more efficient and lower-cost export hub. For coffee, Hodeida’s proximity to prime growing areas and the availability of skilled processing facilities makes it very competitive.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The mission team was composed of Daniele Giovannucci, Senior Consultant and Team Leader (Author); Ali Abdul Karim Al-Fadeel, Agriculture Development Specialist; Saeed Al-Sharjabi, Ministry of Agriculture Senior Coffee Expert; and Bakr Al-Akwa’a, Trade Consultant. The assessment benefited considerably from the guidance and support of Wadea Abdulsattar, Agriculture Specialist, USAID office Yemen; Carson Coleman, Chief of Party, ARD’s Yemen Agricultural Support Project (YASP): Jeff Gray, ARD Senior Technical Advisor; Dorvin Stockdale, USAID’s CTO in Yemen; and Carol Wilson, USAID EGAT/AG. The Republic of Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation graciously hosted the assessment mission and facilitated access throughout the country. Deputy Minister Abdul Malik A. Al-Arashi and his Departmental Directors provided valuable guidance. Dina Al-Eryani and Jamal Hussein Qamaz provided excellent logistics and field assistance.

After my trip to Yemen, it was clear that quality improvements must be made to secure an even higher price for Yemeni coffee. Most of those issues are eloquently addressed in the above report, but I would underscore a couple things.

The goal is not to transform Yemeni coffee into something else, but to make it even more of what it is; it's distinction is not only rooted in the unique cultivar and agronomy, but also in the culture of the people who produce it. How do you make improvements that actually promote the culture of the coffee producers, and allow them to farm their coffee traditionally, without contradicting or eroding those traditions at the same time? Mr. Sowaid was very interested in traveling to India to buy post-harvest cleaning equipment for his warehouse in Hodeida, but was as adamant about making improvements to the process as he was about continuing to employ all of the women who sort the coffee. As I wrote in my travelogue, Yemeni coffee is produced by a human machine, a complex network that has an obligation to employ Yemeni people at all levels. The idea of making that system more efficient, or cutting out middlemen, of automating the sorting, etc, is antithetical to the cultural practice of coffee production in Yemen.

It is of the utmost importance that the pure Mokha seedstock be maintained; there is no seed to experiment with cultivars in Yemen, except to map the current genome. Any hybridizing or other methods of "improvement" would quickly and completely erode on of the key factors that makes Yemen coffee so special. While shade trees are used in some valley areas (such as Saih from my travelogue), I can't see how they can be used on the terraces. One area where improvement can be made is in the exportation. The first issue is the fact that coffee is sorted and cleaned in Hodeida, not Sana'a. The problem is the poor climate of the coastal areas. The catch is that the women who do the sorting, many with 20+ years experience, are mostly Afro-Arab people of Hodeida. To Mr. Sowaid, there was no way around this. If coffee is cleaned promptly in Hodeida, loaded on the ship in the proper place (not the top container in the stack, away from the engines and other heat sources) and if the ship departs promptly, the quality of the coffee seems to be intact. But if any delay occurs, there is damage to the lot. At the prices Yemeni coffee currently obtains (and a future higher price for regional coffees of top quality), we are going to experiment with vacuum packaging, locking in the coffee at 11% moisture and see what the results are after the 45-60 days of transit. As a small scale test, it should be interesting to cup the results side-by-side with jute-bagged coffee. Multiple layers of craft paper liner might be a worthwhile test too.

As I had mentioned, the lack of cupping is unusual. I do not doubt that there is no professional level cupping lab in Yemen. The collectors, bulkers, and exporters all use visual references to evaluate the quality of green coffee. They have fantastic experience in this type of evaluation, but to move forward towards greater quality, and to communicate with buyers, cupping needs to be instituted. To this end, we brought many cupping room supplies to Yemen, and have shipped a Behmor 1600 roaster to Mr. Sowaid to replace his air popcorn popper! We have also suggested meeting in Ethiopia in February to do some cupper training, or to meet in Yemen for several days for the same purpose. We are also sending a small home vacuum bagger to make some tests. -Tom


Trusty No. 11 and Jambir Trusty No. 11 and jambia Well armed, but for no apparent reason than looks. When Ali told me that it's simply a tradition to have a gun around in rural areas, I told him it was just about the same in the US, it's just the guns look a little different. This one is called the No. 11, from Russia.

Rounded Shape of Shibriqi Mokha Rounded Shape of Shibriqi Mokha Shibriqi coffee cherry is smaller than Tufahi, and has a very rounded shape

Yellowing cherries Yellowing cherries Here we found coffee cherry that was turning yellow, but it is not a yellow cultivar (ie. turns yellow when it ripens). This appeared to be a nutritional problem, or lack of water. It looked to me as if there was very little composting, and the soil around the coffee appeared too fine, too heavy, too silty, without organic material.

Checking out the Coffee Cherry Checking out the Coffee Cherry We came across a guy resting after picking some coffee (not the guy in the image - that's me.) In Central America you see pickers with huge amounts of cherry, but with such low production in Yemen, with so little coffee in the trees, this was a miniscule bag in comparison.

Saih Valley Coffee Family Saih Valley Coffee Family He wanted a picture with his little boys and girls...

Qat, the edible part Qat, the edible part Qat is very mild really, but is a stimulant. (If it was something, like alcohol, that could lead to unconciousness, it would be forbidden under Islam). You eat the very fine leaves and stems from the tips and outer branches.

Typical Roadside View in Yemen Typical Roadside View in Yemen Qat in the foreground, town, and terraces for agriculture.

Coffee Cowboy Coffee Cowboy Since I had the good camera, Duane benefited by getting lots of great pictures of himself. What did I get? Huyh?

Al Hagarah Al Hagarah On the way to Haras, Yemen, you pass this especially imposing town, Al Hagarah. By the way, there's always a variety of way to spell things in Yemen. I was given the names of Al Hagrah, Al Hajrah, and Al Hagarah for this town.

"Heavy" Production "Heavy" Production At any other coffee origin, this tree would be either removed, heavily pruned to increase next year's production, or fed a lot of organic (or non-organic) fertilizer. But in Yemen, that's a lot of coffee cherry for a tree.

Gart Edifice Gart Edifice

Dizzying Heights Dizzying Heights Our hosts wanted to lead us on a hike to the lower area of the town ... we'll call it Lower Gart, but I was the only visitor that ended up making the knee-busting walk.

Adenium obesum? Adenium obesum? I was sure I had this plant in my cactus collection at home. It's fairly common, Adenium obesum. Mr. Sowaid said it was not native to the area but I looked it up upon my return and it seems to be native to parts of Africa and Arabia.

I can see coffee now ... I can see coffee now ... As we approached Lower Gart I couls see that many of the roofs had coffee drying. Indeed, this is the middle of the Yemeni Harvest (October-December) so it makes sense.

Baskets of Sorted Coffee Baskets of Sorted Coffee After the coffee is entirely sorted, it is loaded into baskets, each representing one 50 kg bag of exportable coffee, ready for jute bagging.

Street Shepard Street Shepard There are lots of things that you will see on the streets of an American city, but this is NOT one of them

More Dawairi More Dawairi Nowhere did I see overripe coffee cherry on the trees here. They have a climate where they could "dry on the tree". simply not pick the coffee and allow it to dry out on the branch. But I did not see this practice at all. It would be an interesting experiment to cup the difference tree-drying would make

Thompson and Sowaid Thompson and Sowaid Neither of us quite awake.

Mayan in the AM Mayan in the AM A last view of Mayan, where we were treated so well, as we depart at 7 AM.

Coffee Nursery! Coffee Nursery! Along the little diverted stream channel, a little shelf in the rock provided a safe place to propagate coffee seedlings. It seems ideal, within easy reach of water and somewhat protected from the foraging goats.

The worst defects. The worst defects. It seemed that here they were removing only the worst defects, as seen here, but not the broken beans, under-ripes (they have a greenish, wrinkled appearance.) At this point, the freman came and since we were with a different exporter, well ... it was time to go.

MC M.C. MC M.C. Rare Western-style guy, something you don't see much in Yemen.
Solitude Solitude Mountain solitude in Ismaili Yemen.
Ismaili Portraits Ismaili Portraits He helped me carry my bag as we traversed across from Bani Atiah to Mayan. Mayan, Bani Ismaili, Yemen

Mayan Town, Ismaili, Yemen Mayan Town, Ismaili, Yemen Mayan town, Ismaili District, Yemen. No, it's no relation the Maya of the Americas. We traversed very steep terrain to get to the town, and then found it was too late to return. We slept on the floor that night.

Cupping with Mohamed (Sowaid) Cupping with Mohamed (Sowaid) Back in Sana'a, we arranged with the Sowaids to have a cupping. If you can believe it, nobody in Yemen cups coffee. They look at green coffee, they look at dry cherry, they are experts at looking at coffee. But there is no cupping. Sowaid wants to change that.

Cupping with Mohamed (Sowaid)

Cupping with Mohamed (Sowaid) George M. George and myself at the impromptu "cupping table"

Yemen Links:

Sweet Maria's Travelogue - November 2007 Yemen Coffee "Haj"

David Roche (CQI) and Steve McCarthy Article

USAID Yemen Coffee Assessment by Daniele Giovannucci

Yemen: Comments from A Japanese Broker

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