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It is thought that coffee was first introduced to Mexico in the late 18th century with seeds that most likely came from Jamaica. However, due to the vast amount of mineral wealth in the country at that time, there was very little incentive to grow the industry. It was therefore not until 1920 (the end of the revolution) when indigenous producers were freed from some of the larger plantations to grow coffee on their own land that smallholder production truly started to come into place. Production continued to increase throughout the 20th century and the Mexican Coffee Institute was established in 1973 to provide support and technical advice to producers which increased further investment in coffee.
However, disaster struck in the 1980s due to a drop in the price of oil which saw the government change its policies bringing about a decline in the industry and the collapse of the Mexican Coffee Institute. Farmers then had no access to credit and struggled to find a market for their crop, falling prey to predatory coffee buyers known as ‘coyotes’ who would buy low and sell high. This decline also led to a massive drop in quality, giving the country a bad reputation for the production of specialty coffee. In recent years, producers in the regions of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz have formed collectives to try and take on some of the roles previously carried out by the Mexican Coffee Institute and have been successful in forming direct relationships with buyers who value quality.
Mexico is now the fifth largest coffee producer in the world with around 75 per cent of production carried out by smallholder farmers, who often have less than two hectares of land and therefore sell their coffee to cooperatives. There are some estates growing fantastic coffees particularly in the southern states (Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chiapas) with more farmers embracing quality in an effort to combat ‘Roya’, the leaf rust disease which is currently devastating the farms of Latin America.