Why does Ecuador import coffee which the country is fully capable of producing itself?

¿Por qué la industria ecuatoriana importa café si el país tiene la capacidad de producirlo?

To overcome a coffee production deficit, the government of Ecuador is stimulating the purchase of locally produced robusta beans, in the hope of creating a more favorable atmosphere for improved relations between the coffee industry and domestic growers. The industry needs about one million 60-kilogram sacks of coffee per year, but local producers of robusta coffee deliver only between 60,000 and 70,000 sacks.

According to local experts, coffee productivity is low for various reasons. Among them is the age of the coffee plantations, limited adoption of good crop management practices, and local scarcity of specialized labor. The result is that domestically produced coffee often costs about the same as the imported product.

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, for example, the labor scarcity is particularly acute, because wages for agricultural labor are lower than those paid by the petroleum industry. In fact, producers often choose not to harvest their coffee, as the cost of labor commonly exceeds the price paid by coffee buyers. Why is this so? Participatory studies suggest that the causes go beyond common perceptions.

According to studies carried out during the first years of the Borderlands Project, the primary barriers to increased production had nothing to do with the climate or socio-economic conditions but rather with limited contact between coffee growers and the industry as well as a scarcity of information about market demand and the high level of intermediation required because of the remote location of coffee production. These circumstances made it difficult for local organizations of smallholder coffee producers to link with the market efficiently.

The Borderlands Project, led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and supported by CIAT, took place from 2012 to 2016 on both sides of the border between Ecuador and Colombia. The work benefitted about 1,000 indigenous Kichwa families together with 400 Colombian refugees in the region. In Ecuador, CIAT worked with the CRS-Ecuador team and its local partners, including the Vicariate of Lago Agrio and the Warmi indigenous community in the Amazon. Their aim was to help smallholder farm families raise incomes through higher coffee yields, improved product quality, stronger organizational capacity, and a better understanding of market demand, thus taking advantage of clear potential in the coffee value chain while overcoming its limitations.

CIAT’s participation in the project was key for examining the impacts of climate change on three staple foods and two commercial crops (cocoa and coffee) as well as for monitoring and evaluating project interventions and for analyzing the robusta coffee value chain.


"We liked how CIAT works, taking a close look at local needs, and how the process is advancing."

by Antonia Grefa (Mamá Antonia), Antonia Grefa (Mamá Antonia), leader of the Quichua Women's Association, speaks about support received from CIAT during the Borderlands Project.


Indigenous Kichwa families (approximately) benefitted with the project


Colombian refugees in the region (approximately) benefitted with the project


 “CIAT is providing us with high-quality scientific support, so now we can present our results fully confident and satisfied that they are solid. One of the most important achievements was the greater visibility that coffee has gained in the Amazon. We are realizing the value of coffee again by means of good quality seed and the stronger capacity of our partners to move ahead with coffee development in Ecuador.”

Joseph Kelly

Regional Director, CRS

Photos by: Fernando Rodriguez-Camayo


“The coffee we're growing now provides a sustainable livelihood for the family.”

by Mamá Antonia shares her experiences and achievements during the Borderlands Project.

First Taza Dorada contest for robusta coffee

In the project’s final stage, it embarked on an effort with the National Association of Coffee Exporters (ANECAFÉ) to heighten the visibility of coffee in the Amazon. For this purpose, the first Taza Dorada (“Golden Cup”) Contest for Washed Robusta was held on 26-29 July 2016. During the event, CIAT presented the results of its participation in the Borderlands Project, which had the objectives of helping communities realize the importance of linking with markets as well as with different actors in the coffee value chain and understand the need for working through a value chain approach that involves both the public and private sectors together with producer organizations and that develops productive clusters to improve coffee quality and boost national production.

The winners of the contest

During the Taza Dorada contest, a coffee tasting test was carried out on a total of 38 samples to determine the 10 best robusta coffees. All of those selected as winners were associated with the Borderlands Project.

Out of a total of 24 winners, 21 obtained scores of 80 points or more on a 100-point scale, which in the coffee world means they are graded as “specialty coffee.”


Borderlands in Colombia- Policy Brief

Find about the experience of Borderlands in Colombia.

The authors of this blog:

Fernando Rodriguez

Fernando Rodriguez

Researcher, Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area

Natalia Gutiérrez

Natalia Gutiérrez

Communications Analyst