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The best coffee in the world

15:36 4 de January de 2022 By Daniel Oiticica

Lily Pacas: “Most of the economic and social development of the country is linked to coffee growing”. Photo: Fabio Lima.

Salvadoran coffee is one of the most appreciated products by locals, with enormous international prestige for its aroma and quality. The recovery of the coffee sector, one of the largest exporters in the world, is one of the pillars of the Master Plan for the Agricultural Sector. Lily Pacas, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Livestock is an expert on the subject. She comes from a traditional family of local producers; her last name gives name to one of the varieties of the product grown in the country. In this interview, Lily Pacas reveals the projects that will bring El Salvador back to where they belong on the map of global coffee production.

Which is the current situation for the coffee sector in El Salvador?
Today we are producing little volume, but we are recognized as a coffee-producing country in terms of quality. Our experience and potential have urged us to bring up the issue, declare its national interest and once again promote the growing of coffee in El Salvador. Coffee has been part of our history and, of course, it is our future. In the 60s and 70s, El Salvador ranked fourth in productivity per square and was positioned as one of the best producers of origin in the world. Today it is up to us to resume this path and we want coffee of El Salvador get back this recognition.

Which the coffee varieties produced in El Salvador?
El Salvador has been traditional regarding the varieties produced, one of them being Bourbon. At some point in history, we were leading this specific production whose cup quality is extremely high. It is a very sweet coffee, with citric acidity and a chocolatey flavor. In El Salvador, we have six coffee growing regions, Apaneca and Ilamatepec being the largest and those with the longest coffee production. The Pacamara is one of the varieties best known for its quality, being highly demanded in Asia. There are many international buyers coming looking for the Pacamara. And it is a variety made 100% in El Salvador, more than 50 years ago. Then we have a variety that I am proud of, because it has my last name, Pacas, a natural variety found on my great-grandfather’s farm. It is extremely productive and very resistant to the problem of climate change.

Which is the role of coffee in the economy and development of El Salvador?
Most of the economic and social development of the country is linked to coffee growing. Coffee continues to be the main creator of job opportunities in rural areas. We are going to promote it, we are going to motivate producers to continue investing in coffee, because we have a product with very high potential. For example, the department of Santa Ana, which is within one of the mountain ranges, is one of the largest coffee-producing regions in El Salvador. And all the infrastructure, the National Theater, the Cathedral, the Salvadoran Casino, the road that leads from San Salvador to Santa Ana, everything was done at the time of the national coffee production boom.

Which are the projects to resume growth on the coffee sector?
Today, we have a coffee policy that leads us to become a reference in the region and in the world as a producer of quality coffee. We are close to having a new Salvadoran Coffee Institute, which will offer technical assistance, renovation of our coffee plantations, together with scientific research. For the last 10 years we have not had an Institute and thus, everything related to research, innovation and support for the coffee grower was lost. In 2019, when we came to Office, we found a totally demotivated and abandoned sector. We started by organizing discussion tables to understand the real needs, as well as potential and opportunities.

And you launched the new brand “Café de El Salvador”…
We had a brand that did not represent either the coffee growers or the quality of Salvadoran coffee. So, we worked on the relaunching of the Café de El Salvador brand, “The most special coffee in the world”, to resume the role as worldwide reference. The beauty of this brand is that all the actors in the chain participated in its creation, including producers, roasters, processors, farm workers, transport companies, coffee shops and consumers. Through international buyers’ opinions we also detected what they are looking for in coffee. We are both part of this new brand Café de El Salvador. This provides added value to position ourselves at a national and international level. We are extremely proud to have a new brand that has once again positioned the country in the world.

Taking into account this new coffee policy, what results have you already obtained?
We have created the Master Plan for the Agricultural Sector, and one of its fundamental pillars is the rescue of the national coffee industry. In this sense, we have considered renovation of 50 thousand coffee blocks. We continue to work together with coffee growers so that they are aware of the projects we are carrying out. All this movement has impressively motivated the sector and created trust. As the Government of El Salvador, we know that we are going to rescue our coffee growing. We are laying the foundation for a new era in the sector.

Salvadoran coffee is positioned as one of the best paid in international electronic auctions and the Cup of Excellence 2021, one of the most important international events. What makes the product so valuable in terms of quality?
I consider that coffee is El Salvador flagship product not only for its quality, but for its contribution to the country: job creation, infrastructure and economic development. The Cup of Excellence is a program aiming to identify high quality coffees in producing countries. El Salvador has participated for years and recently, our Pacamara variety has reached the first places. This variety is grow by small producer in the Alotepeque region. In 2020, according to the Cup of Excellence, this coffee was the second most expensive and got the best score in the entire region, from Mexico to Colombia.

Is there room to expand the growing areas?
There was time when El Salvador reached 4 million quintals of coffee production, and it has been reduced to 800. We believe that with the support and projects abovementioned, we can reach up to 3 million quintals. There is a lot to grow and in two ways: on the one hand, by reactivating and renovating many of the coffee growing areas that have been abandoned; and on the other, developing high altitude plantations. As a consequence of climate change, we can now produce coffee at a higher altitude. Previously, coffee was produced at 1400 meters above sea level. Today, we can get into 1900 meters. There is an area in the department of Morazán that produces very few coffee, but that has great growth potential in terms of territory and cultivation area. With the launch and the strategy behind the new Café de El Salvador brand, we want to position El Salvador as a producing country not in terms of volume, but of quality.

Coffee is an experience in El Salvador, not only because of its quality, but also because of the way it is produced. Which is the best way to learn about these processes?
For those interested in buying coffee from El Salvador, coming to our country is key. One of the most special attributes of coffee is that the coffee growing regions of El Salvador are part of our natural landscape. Coffee is also part of our tourist destinations. In the events and fairs in which we participate we try show what coffee means for us. Visitors can get to know not only the quality of our coffee at the table, but also to fall in love with the country. We know the product potential and that an increasing number of consumers throughout the region and the world will be willing to pay for the added value in our coffee. This will be a successful rescue that is going to have a very positive effect on our growers.