The Government and Coffee Production
Myanmar remained isolated for many years due to the ongoing civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. The government, controlled by the military, pursued isolationist policies, and coffee production waned. During this time, the majority of coffee grown was at or below commodity grade and was sold with neighboring countries such as China, Laos, and Bangladesh through unofficial sales.
In 2016, as the military ceded some power to the National League for Democracy, the government has focused more resources on increasing coffee production and quality. Together with investment from foreign development organizations like Winrock and USAID, the government laid out a large-scale plan to combat local poppy production for the opium trade. In the 1980s, the UN joined with a program in the Northern and Southern Shan state to replace poppies with coffee. The project was more or less successful. It largely defined how nowadays the smallholder coffee production in the Shan state looks like. Many households have 10 to 20 coffee trees in their garden. They collect the harvest on a village level and send it to a central mill for processing. In just a few years time, coffee scores jumped from the low-70s to the mid-80s, demonstrating the potential of Myanmar coffee production.
The hot days and cool nights of Myanmar’s climate lend themselves well to coffee production with the dry, hot weather of harvesting season working particularly well for natural processing, though many coffee are wet processed as well.
Myanmar’s largest dry mill is the run by the Mandalay Coffee Group, which, together with the Myanmar Coffee Association, are driving forward specialty coffee production.
One of the biggest challenges Myanmar’s coffee industry faces is sorting and grading. A 2015 Winrock International and Coffee Quality Institute project helped farmers begin more intensive sorting and grading that allowed them to sell their coffee on the specialty market.
The Future of Myanmar’s Coffee Industry
A hurdle that Myanmar’s producers and government will need to tackle in the near as future as production continues to grow will be the lack of infrastructure for transportation and shipping. New roads will be required to transport coffee from smallholder farms to processing and shipping operations while those operations will need updated facilities in order to manage increased volumes and maintain exacting levels of quality. Finally, port cities will probably need to expand their shipping capacity as more coffee begins to move through them and they are linked more complexly to the international economy.