A project is underway to produce premium coffee from beans grown on Tokunoshima, an island in Kagoshima Prefecture, on a commercial basis.

The project was launched in June 2017 by beverage-maker Ajinomoto AGF Inc., major trading house Marubeni Corp., the town of Isen and the coffee producers association of Tokunoshima.

The alliance plans to gather one ton of beans and sell coffee on a trial basis in fiscal 2022, before releasing the product in a limited quantity the following year. In fiscal 2024, it plans to produce 10 tons of coffee.

The number of coffee trees on Tokunoshima is planned to increase to 15,000 in fiscal 2022, from just 200 in fiscal 2017.

“We are putting a plan in place to boost output,” Ajinomoto AGF President Hideaki Shinada said.

Growing coffee beans on Tokunoshima involves overcoming various difficulties, including regular typhoons and the fact that many farmers are faced with a shortage of successors. The group, therefore, conducted studies on typhoon-resistant breeds of coffee beans and encouraged farmers to join the coffee-growing business.

“People can grow coffee concurrently with other occupations,” said Seiichi Yoshitama, head of the producer association. “We want to develop (coffee production) as a new industry on the island.”

Brazil and Vietnam produce more than half of the world’s coffee beans, according to Marubeni. While major coffee companies can stably procure coffee beans from contract growers in such countries, the strict management of beans to maintain quality is physically difficult.

In contrast, people involved in the project claim thorough quality management, including in the roasting process, is possible on Tokunoshima. The quality of coffee from the island is “good enough to be sold as a premium coffee,” Shinada said.

A similar project was launched in Okinawa Prefecture last year. Nestle Japan Ltd. and Okinawa SV, an athletic club headed by Naohiro Takahara, a professional soccer player who played for Japan’s national squad, planted 240 coffee bean saplings at a farm in Nago in April 2019. The city office and University of the Ryukyus cooperated in the work.

Athletes and officials of Okinawa SV will be involved in the harvesting of coffee beans due to begin as early as 2022. Nestle Japan and the club plan to plant some 10,000 more saplings.

“I hope to see coffee production grow to be a big industry in Okinawa,” Takahara said.

Organizers envision selling coffee as a local specialty and developing a plantation adjacent to a soccer pitch.

In 2018, Japan consumed some 470,000 tons of coffee, the fourth-highest figure in the world, due to increasing demand for high-quality coffee among domestic consumers.

But the cultivation of coffee beans in Japan is limited to certain tropical areas and most of that is consumed locally, meaning the nation has to rely on imports for the large majority of its coffee consumption.

But growing consumption may stimulate demand for homegrown coffee on a wider basis. There are hopes that an increase in cultivation will also contribute to the effective use of abandoned arable land and create local jobs.

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