PICS: FOO CHEE CHANG
Last week, Nepali coffee producers celebrated the registration of the official trademark of Nepali organic coffee. The Department of Industry granted the trademark after the Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB) applied in May 2007. Organic coffee grown in Nepal will now be known as 'The Himalayan Specialty Nepal Coffee'.
"This trademark will assure international buyers that the coffee is organic and has been produced in Nepal," says Binay Kumar Mishra, executive director of NTCDB. The trademark will also standardise and
guarantee the quality of Nepal-grown
coffee. The process of certifying 10 Nepali coffee producers with the trademark has already begun.
Commercial farming of coffee in Nepal started in 1976, but the market finally began to pick up in the last decade. Only the highland Arabica variety is produced in Nepal. At present, 1,630 hectares of land are used for coffee farming, spread over at least 23 districts, including Syangjha, Gulmi, Palpa, Kaski, Tanahun and Baglung.
The industry employs 25,000 farmers and this year, total coffee production amounted to 334 tonnes, up from 265 tonnes in the last fiscal year. "The coffee produced here is called specialty coffee because it fulfills certain standards," says Shyam Prasad Bhandari, Chairman of Nepal Coffee Association. "Our coffee is grown above an altitude of 800 metres, is farmed in the shade, and is organic."
Nepali coffee has done well on the international market because of the taste these criteria add to a brew. This year, out of total production, 120 tonnes of coffee were exported. The trademark is expected to boost this figure. Nepali coffee is already finding a niche in the US, Japan, Korea, Germany, Netherlands and Canada, and from this year on, exports have been extended to the Gulf countries. According to Bhandari, Nepali coffee ranked second among 80 coffee producers in a recent grading exercise in Germany.
Unlike most Nepali export industries, the coffee industry here does not need to import any of its raw materials, except for jute bags for packaging, which are sometimes not available locally. This means that all of the revenue earned through coffee export and sales goes into the pockets of Nepali producers and farmers.
The industry has also been encouraged by domestic demand. Local coffee culture has grown over the years, demonstrated, for example, by the coffee shops popping up here and there across the Kathmandu Valley. "When we started selling coffee 27 years ago, it was difficult to sell even a tonne in the Nepali market," says Krishna Ghimire, Chairman of Highland Coffee Company. "Now we sell over 50 tonnes a year."
Coffee producers here are now lobbying to register the trademark internationally. For the time being, Nepal is just an observer member in the International Coffee Organization, but membership will facilitate access of Nepali coffee to wider markets. For those who don't get the Nepali love of chiya, something else is brewing.
Local boys to look out for:
Johnny Gurkha Blend Coffee
Annapurna Organic Coffee
Royal Everest Coffee
Morning Fresh Coffee
Himalayan Arabica Coffee
Buddha Organic Coffee
Lalitpur Organic Coffee