Coffee and Cocoa in Sao Tome and Principe

Coffee Cocoa History São Tome Island

If you visit Sao Tome and Principe today, you will find islands of incredible beauty. Yet, you will see inactive and ruined “Roças”, showing an architectural and economic vitality land that no longer exists.

The beginning

Portuguese discovered Sao Tome and Principe islands in the fifteenth century, time when began a process of colonization, mainly with doomed colonists, jews, gypsies and others.

At the same century sugar plantations started (which were forbidden by 1958). Yet, coffee plantations only began in 1780, with manpower coming from slave traffic – which was only abolished in 1836 – that was coming from thorough Africa. As for cocoa, in 1822 its plant was being introduced in the island of Principe, and the planting started in 1857 by the “Roça Water-Izé”’s Baron: João Maria de Sousa Almeida. 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the archipelago’s economy enjoyed a new health and prosperity.

At the same time cocoa’s productivity and quality farming levels increased, by raising its price at international markets, and overcoming coffee exports over 1880.

Sao Tome and Principe at Coffee and Cocoa’s World Stage and then: the collapse

Meanwhile, the cocoa produced at Sao Tome and Principe was transfiguring cocoa’s world market. Truth is, tons of cocoa beans were sent to Bourneville, London, Liverpool, Hamburg, bound for major European chocolate manufacturers (Cadbury Brothers, JS Fry & Sons and Rowntrees & Co).

Coffee and cocoa cycle determined, profoundly, the history of Sao Tome and Principe, claiming the archipelago on coffee and cocoa’s world stage. As an example, in 1880, cocoa production exceeds the coffee production and, in 1913, Sao Tome and Principe becomes the largest cocoa exporter, with an annual output of 36500 tons per year.

But then again, in 1919, the insect pest of Selenothrips rubrocontus destroyed every cocoa plantation at the islands.

Meanwhile, political and economic changes were happening

Many policy changes occurred in the world, as the two world wars that affected the revitalization of plantations for the production of cocoa and coffee; and mainly in Portugal: with the implementation of the Portuguese Republic in 1910.

This “Roças” revitalization was still not done forced by the Portuguese decolonization that occurred after the Carnation Revolution of 1974 April’s 25th, and the national agrarian reform in 1985.

And now, at 2016, what we can see in Sao Tome are just small and giant pieces of a beautiful as prosperous story that failed to reborn. Coffee plantations are done just by small farmers (there is an article dedicated to one of those farmers – Manuel) and cocoa is only being grown by one company. The world evolves. The past, well, the past remains. Always.

Here is a chronology of the major Sao Tome and Principe historic events since its discovery to the present day:

Coffee Cocoa History São Tome Island

Coffee and Cocoa story in São Tome Island