Subject: AAP: East Timor gets a coffee break

Vic: East Timor gets a coffee break

April 2, 2003 9:39am

MELBOURNE, April 2 AAP - East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao drinks up to 10 cups of his country's high quality coffee every day. The habit he says, not only helps him stay off the cigarettes, but also provides an important boost for his country's main export.

Speaking in Melbourne at the opening of a new coffee roasting and processing plant, Mr Gusmao said coffee beans were the backbone of his fledging nation. "Coffee is the main breadwinner for East Timorese people and it will be for some time," he said. Generating up to $20 million a year, coffee is expected to remain the country's biggest export earner until oil and gas production in the Timor Gap begins in the next few years.

Mr Gusmao said life in East Timor remained very difficult and the new processing plant was an important sign of confidence in the county's coffee industry. "It will help our economy very much," he said, "And the social aspect, because we have thousands of young people without jobs."

But the East Timorese coffee plantations, which were once the preferred supplier to the British Royal family, are still a long way off regaining their former glory. Before the 1975 invasion by Indonesian forces, East Timor produced up to 45,000 tonnes a year, which shrunk to 8,500 tonnes under the subsequent 25-year occupation.

East Timor now exports about 10,000 tonnes of coffee beans a year. However, the country lacks the infrastructure to hull, clean and roast its high-grade Arabica coffee beans - much of which was destroyed during occupation.

The Bean Alliance plant in suburban Reservoir in Melbourne, which has been working with East Timor for five years, is one of Australia's main importers of East Timorese coffee, and the first to market it as a speciality product. It is also the first roasting facility in Australia to achieve organic status.

Bean Alliance managing director Angelo Augello, said the organic status was achieved because of the perfect coffee growing conditions in East Timor and its reliance on traditional farming practices without the use of pesticide and fertilisers. Mr Augello said plenty of interest has been shown in East Timor's coffee - particularly from the United States and Germany.

Mr Gusmao said he could vouch for its high standard, and the only way to drink it was like the East Timorese do: "black and very strong." AAP svm/ce/gl/jlw

Publication: AAP News Distributed by Financial Times Info


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