• Estate or smallholder grown

    It is not true that smallholders can never match the quality standards of estates. For years and years many smallholders in Kenya have consistently outperformed large and well-managed estates while growing the same varieties. But much depends on the personal circumstances of each individual smallholder and it is fair to say that many smallholders in the world face daunting circumstances.

    There are no accurate data on the proportions of estate and smallholder coffee in the total world production, partly because there is no definitive measure of what constitutes a smallholder. But it is believed that over half the world's coffee crop is grown on farms of less than 5 hectares.

    In Africa only about 5%-6% of the annual output of about 1 million tons is grown on estates. The remaining 95% or so is grown by people whose holdings range from perhaps one or two to ten hectares, to just a few hundred trees in all, sometimes even less than that.

    The world's main resource of original coffees, and their future, probably lies within the smallholder sector. Ironically though because of the heterogeneity of most of these coffees (a single shipment is made up from many small growers), they often fail to get into the exemplary segment of the specialty market because they lack visual perfection, or they are 'unknown' and it is easier to market well-known coffees. On the other hand, their availability is also not always adequate or regular enough to match expectation, which limits their scope in the marketplace. Even so, it seems reasonable to say that apart from relatively small amounts of specialty coffee, the market's general failure in recent years to provide broad support for quality smallholder coffees is contributing to the decline in their availability. Without decent prices there is little reason for the average smallholder to invest in quality.
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