By Alba Santandreu
Sao Paulo, Aug 6 (EFE).- Brazil’s most heavily populated metropolis also is home to the world’s largest urban coffee farm, a 10,000-square-meter (2.5-acre) plantation that is nestled amid skyscrapers and hearkens back to the city’s origins.
Although it is situated just a few meters from the famed Ibirapuera Park in the heart of Sao Paulo, that oasis of around 2,000 coffee shrubs is unknown to most inhabitants of Latin America’s biggest urban center.
The plantation has an annual production of 600 kilos (1,321 pounds) of arabica coffee, primarily the catuai and “mundo novo” varieties, which are harvested over a short stint between late May and early June.
Once they are collected, the beans are dried on a net, ground into smaller particles and later donated to a social solidarity fund, the project’s coordinator, agronomist Harumi Hojo, said in an interview with Efe.
“The plantation has already served for research (purposes), and the proposal now is to produce coffee in a sustainable manner. Starting this year, we’ll be renovating the coffee plantation, bringing in other coffees to monitor the behavior of other varieties in the same conditions,” she added.
The coffee farm has been in operation since 1950 at the nearly century-old Instituto Biologico agricultural research hub, an institution founded during the early 20th-century heyday of Sao Paulo state’s coffee sector with the purpose of combating the coffee borer beetle, a harmful pest that was threatening the region’s plantations at that time.
The plantation today is one of the few remaining vestiges of Sao Paulo’s golden coffee era, when so-called coffee barons used the profits from their farms in the state’s interior to erect luxurious mansions in the city.
Among the last of these decaying mansions is one located on the city’s iconic downtown Paulista Avenue, a major thoroughfare where thousands of people and vehicles come and go every day.
An 850-square-meter (9,140-square-foot) building constructed on 2,000 square meters of land, that mansion built in 1905 is conspicuous amid a sea of modern glass office towers and may be converted into a culinary museum.
Coffee was synonymous with progress and wealth for decades in Sao Paulo, a one-time poor and isolated village that ended up overtaking Brazil’s former capital, Rio de Janeiro, as the country’s leading industrial hub. That crop also was primarily responsible for the modernization, urbanization and development of what today is the South American nation’s wealthiest and most-populated state.
Arriving from Central America in 1760, coffee was the main basis of Brazil’s economy between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s and at one time accounted for 80 percent of the nation’s exports.
Despite its subsequent decline and the rise of other crops such as soybeans, Brazil remains the world’s leading coffee producer and exporter and the second-biggest consumer of that beverage after the United States.
Brazil’s “economic, social and cultural development was financed by coffee, as were its big infrastructure and public works projects, including railway lines. Even Sao Paulo’s financial system, which had been very precarious” thrived due to coffee-industry profits, Marcos Matos, director of the Council of Coffee Exporters of Brazil (Cecafe), which represents and promotes the development of that sector, said in a telephone interview with Efe.
“Coffee was Brazil and Brazil was coffee,” he said. EFE