Malaysia has been growing coffee for centuries. While sporadic attempts to cultivate coffee in Peninsula Malaysia (formerly Malaya) can be traced back to as early as 1696, it wasn’t until the 1870s that coffee became an important crop.
A major impetus for this growth is the collapse of the Ceylon coffee industry due to coffee leaf rust disease.As a result of the collapse, many European producers from Ceylon began migrating to Malaya, in hopes of finding disease-free arable lands.
By the 1890s, Malaya was enjoying a minor coffee boom, where the most successful estates were located along the west coast of Malaya. However, this short-lived boom was disrupted in 1894 when the coffee leaf rust disease made its way to Malaya.
The industry continued to struggle for the next few years until the plummeting world coffee prices in the late 1890s dealt the final blow. As a response, major coffee estates decided to switch to rubber plantation and effectively ended coffee’s dominance as a cash crop.
Coffee Production in Malaysia
Today, coffee continues to be grown by small producers in Johor, Sabah, Selangor, Kedah and Sarawak either as a sole crop or alongside other fruit trees.
Majority of the coffee produced in Malaysia is of the Liberica and Robusta species, which are hardier and thrive better in Malaysia’s low altitude plantations. The Arabica coffee are mainly grown in the highlands of Sabah.
The overall production in Malaysia is in downward trend with only 7,170 metric tonnes produced in 2016 compared to 15,064 metric tonnes in 2011.
Negative factors such as low prices and high labor costs are driving producers to switch to more lucrative crops such as palm oil.
Over the recent years, efforts have been made by the authorities to support local producers through financial incentives and varietal exchange programs.