Upgrading of Lowland Coffee in Central America

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A persistent fall of coffee prices in the 1990s brought the International Coffee Organisation, national governments, and coffee companies to propose the promotion of good quality highland coffee as the exclusive strategy for Central America to neutralize the negative income effects. This implies that cultivation on low- and medium-altitude lands should be discouraged, which means that 60% of the coffee growers and workers will lose their means of subsistence in this region. We have used a combined environmental-global commodity chain approach to question the new common wisdom. In buyer-driven chains, there are different quality attributes to satisfy consumers wants. As most food products, coffee receives quality premiums for both sensorial and non-sensorial credence characteristics. However, mass consumption markets in developed countries are served by powerful downstream roasters with blends that contain a major part of low sensory quality coffees. Market demand and a credence characteristic as the highly rewarded environmental friendliness should both be considered in assessments. This creates opportunities for lowland growers to stay in business and for mass coffee markets to become more sustainable.