CQI Teams With Key Partners To Explore Coffee Opportunities In Nepal

As we headed up the steep, rocky roads of Nepal’s coffee-growing region of Gorkha, our Toyota 4WD pickups showed mountain-goat-like adeptness. Navigating these roads, we caught occasional glimpses of the country’s spectacular scenery, with the snow-capped Himalayas briefly becoming visible through the cloud cover.

This was May 2018, when a group of coffee-industry veterans—including myself, Rick Peyser of Lutheran World Relief (LWR), and Craig Holt of Atlas Coffee Importers—traveled together to Nepal to do an assessment of the country’s coffee. Though Nepal produces a small amount of coffee, there are many thriving cafés in its capital city of Kathmandu, and coffee is clearly an important part of its culture. We came to Nepal to better understand the coffee landscape, and to begin to design a collaborative approach between CQI and LWR to help some of the country’s 30,000 small-scale coffee farmers improve the yields and quality of their coffee.

Coffee in Nepal
While coffee was introduced to Nepal in 1938 with seedlings from Myanmar, it remained a curiosity for many years, with little to no commercial value. Over time, with the support of the Nepalese government and other organizations, its cultivation has spread to over 40 districts, particularly those located in the foothills of the Himalayas along the northern half of the country that borders Tibet. The consumption of specialty coffee has continued to increase as well, thanks to those cafés in Kathmandu—which are growing in numbers every year.

Nepal is blessed with an abundance of fertile land in its Middle Hills region, where the altitude and climate are well-suited to coffee production. Nepal coffee producers currently grow desirable varieties, and the high price of the internal market for coffee (Nepal consumes 75 percent of its coffee in-country) makes it an attractive cash crop for growers. However, Nepal’s coffee industry faces challenges as well, which include limited current production, lack of infrastructure, and plant disease.

Exploring the country
Much of our time in Nepal was spent in meetings with farmers, exporters, representatives from the EU, the Ministry of Commerce, Helvetas, and the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, among others, to better understand the coffee landscape. The rest of our time was spent in the field meeting with farmers, and touring their farms and processing facilities.

In addition to Gorkha, we traveled to the coffee-producing areas of Lamjung and Nuwakot. Rick Peyser put it well when describing the areas we visited, saying, “Most of the small-scale (‘micro-scale’ may be more appropriate) farms we visited were less than a quarter of an acre in size, with coffee often cultivated on step-like terraces that climbed the mountainsides. We also had the opportunity to visit a few ‘estates’ that were equivalent in size to many small-scale farms in Central America.”

The growers we met with throughout Nepal showed a strong interest in learning about agronomy, harvesting, and processing. Talking to Craig Holt after the trip, he shared with me his impressions of the coffee farmers and other professionals we encountered: "We were left with a strong impression that trainings would be well received. We were similarly impressed with the positive interest in coffee development expressed by the government, as well as the willingness that private-sector stakeholders showed in collaboration throughout the value chain. All of these things are key factors that could contribute to a successful increase of productivity, quality, and profitability in the Nepal coffee supply chain," Craig said.

Looking forward
While Nepal still faces the aforementioned challenges in its coffee industry, we were very encouraged by the eagerness of the coffee professionals we met to embrace quality improvements. The LWR team has the resources to make real progress with projects in Nepal, and the potential collaborators we met could offer us important additional support. “The opportunities for further development of the specialty coffee sector abound,” Rick Peyser told me. “I am already looking forward to follow-up visits, to build upon what we experienced on this learning journey.”

Nepal is a stunningly beautiful, peaceful country that the world’s coffee professionals would surely love to explore for themselves. This trip gave us hope that, through collaboration and hard work, the future for specialty coffee in the country could be bright.

By: David Roche, Executive Director, CQI

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