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Will unbanning robusta cost Costa Rica?

Robusta has been banned from Costa Rica for 30 years to protect the nation's crops from the coffee borer beetle, but since the beetle has now been present for some years, that ban may be overturned.

According to Costa Rica’s Ministry for Agriculture, the nation will soon be lifting its 30-year ban on robusta – the only step left is for President Luis Guillermo Solis to sign off on the decree.

It’s a controversial move; introducing robusta could diminish Costa Rica’s reputation for quality arabica production. Thanks to this reputation, the nation’s coffee growers enjoy good prices, something that producers will be eager to defend.

 Robusta was initially banned in 1988 for ‘phytosanitary reasons’ in hopes that it would prevent the coffee borer beetle entering the country (borer beetles prefer robusta to arabica). Unfortunately, this measure is now redundant since the pest has been present in Costa Rica for several years.

The Costa Rican Ministry for Agriculture meanwhile sees introducing robusta as an opportunity to create more jobs, and to make better use of land.

Robusta trees are more resistant to the threat of La Roya (also known as coffee rust disease) than Arabica trees. Subsequently, they can be planted successfully planted at lower altitudes where heat and moisture make for ideal conditions for the fungus. This means robusta can produce effectively where arabica is susceptible to infection.

In an attempt to pacify those worried about their nation’s prestige for quality, the Ministry is making assurances that robusta varieties will only be permitted to grow in carefully restricted areas. They have also stated that measures will be taken to ensure varietals aren’t mixed, either at the farm or in processing stations.

Our thoughts?

Introducing robusta may eventually boost total production in Costa Rica. This might slightly lower prices for them across the board – but probably not by much. Losing their 100% arabica status may compound this – the exclusivity of Costa Rican coffee is part of the reason they have in the past been able to charge slightly more.

It will open up land that wasn’t previously workable for the coffee industry, and create jobs – which is good news, as long as it’s done with a careful, strategic approach. We think that there may also an opportunity here for the Costa Ricans to apply their expertise in arabica and develop a top-quality robusta, which could be really interesting.  

We’ll be monitoring the progress of the ban-removing decree in Costa Rica closely; stay tuned for updates. 

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