The rapid expansion of production in Brazil and Java, among others, caused a significant decline in world prices. These bottomed out in the late 1840’s, from which point a strong upward movement occurred, reaching its peak in the 1890’s. During this latter period, due mainly to a lack of inland transport and manpower, Brazilian expansion slowed considerably. Meanwhile, the upward movement of prices encouraged the growth of coffee cultivation in other producing regions in the Americas such as Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia.
In Colombia, where coffee had been introduced by the Jesuits as early as 1723, civil strife and the inaccessibility of the best coffee-growing regions had hampered the growth of a coffee industry. Following the “Thousand Days War” of 1899 to 1903, the new peace saw Colombians turn to coffee as their salvation. While larger plantations, or haciendas, dominated the upper Magdalena river regions of Cundinamarca and Tolima, determined peasants staked new claims in the mountainous regions to the west, in Antioquia and Caldas. New railways, relying on coffee for profit, allowed more coffee to be grown and transported. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 permitted exports from Colombia’s previously unreachable Pacific coast, with the port of Buenaventura assuming increasing importance.
In 1905 Colombia exported five hundred thousand bags of coffee; by 1915 exports had doubled. While Brazil desperately tried to control its overproduction, Colombian coffee became increasingly popular with American and European consumers. In 1914 Brazil supplied three-quarters of U.S. imports with 5.6 million bags, but by 1919 that figure had fallen to 4.3 million, while Colombia’s share had risen from 687,000 to 915,000 bags. During the same period Central American exports to the U.S. had risen from 302,000 to 1.2 million bags.
In spite of political turmoil, social upheaval and economic vicissitude, the 20th century saw an essentially continuous rise in demand for coffee. U.S. consumption continued to grow reaching a peak in 1946, when annual per capita consumption was 19.8 pounds, twice the figure in 1900. Especially during periods of high global prices, this steadily increasing demand lead to an expansion in production throughout the coffee-growing regions of the world. With the process of decolonisation that began in the years following the Second World War, many newly independent nations in Africa, notably Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, found themselves in varying degrees dependent on coffee export revenue.
To be continued