Coffee congress in Costa Rica maintains ban on cultivation of robusta bean

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SAN JOSE (Reuters) - The National Coffee Congress for Costa Rica, a group of industry and government representatives that sets national coffee policy in the Central American country, has upheld a ban on growing the robusta coffee bean, two participants at an extraordinary congressional session said on Saturday.

The proposal to amend a decree against robusta, which was outlawed in 1988 to promote production of arabica, had support from more than half of the Congress, but did not reach the two-thirds majority needed for approval, said Jose Manuel Hernandez, head of the Chamber of Costa Rican Coffee Roasters, and Ricardo Seevers, a former president of Costa Rica’s largest trade group, the Coffee Institute (ICAFE).

The vote shows growing interest in Costa Rica, the world’s 14th-largest coffee producer, around reintroducing the more bitter, higher-caffeinated bean, which would reduce the need to import robusta for domestic consumption.

A committee of ICAFE, which included industry representatives, had recommended lifting the ban in light of market and climate realities not seen three decades ago.

Opponents of the measure, however, believe robusta coffee threatens to dilute Costa Rica’s reputation as a producer of premium arabica.

Discovered in Ethiopia and now grown largely in Latin America, Africa and Asia, arabica has long dominated production and commands about 60 percent of the world’s coffee output. While global demand for coffee is rising, both main species, arabica and robusta, are climate sensitive and under long-term threat.

Reporting by Enrique Pretel; Writing by Natalie Schachar; Editing by Bill Rigby