Sao Tomé, a new land of coffee.Sao Tomé and Principe: coffee from the middle world

Malongo relaunches the cultivation of arabica.

Sao Tomé and Principe? Two specks in the Ocean on the line of the Equator. A tiny piece of Africa, an archipelago considered as one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world.

But a green and pleasant isle, a mixture of savannah and tropical vegetation exploding with colour, which lives from fishing and farming, a tourist industry still in its infancy, in the future doubtless from oil, the discovery of which should change the economy of this flag-of-convenience island.

 But the island of Sao Tomé is also a jewel in the world of coffee!

Jean-Pierre Blanc, General Director of Malongo, is conscious of its history and its promise. After a preparatory mission in September 2009, he signed a 6-year partnership and development agreement with the government on the creation of an economically viable export business to allow small producers long-term economic and social development.

This agreement presents every aspect (social, economic, ecological, patrimonial) of a successful collaboration, following the example of those conducted by Malongo in other coffee-producing countries.

 A traditional, old fashioned coffee

It is a question of relaunching top of the range coffee cultivation on the island with organic (Ecocert) and fair trade (Max Havelaar) endorsements, to help small planters to develop. There is still a long way to go before this project reaches a successful conclusion. Current production of the Monte Café property, an old colonial plantation, is low (5,000 kilos a year intended for the local market), heterogeneous and of average quality. But some very old varieties – like Bourbon, probably Blue Mountain and Typica – do exist, like a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.

The Malongo project is targeting the overall development of the underprivileged population in the Monte Café area.

It will incorporate a far-reaching training scheme for coffee growers, based on agronomic education and support with the management of farm organisation. The agronomic programme will rely on the expertise of professionals and producers well versed in the techniques of organic production and, in particular, exchanges with Malongo's partner coffee growers in Mexico.


 One of the smallest countries in Africa:


Sao Tomé and Principe (pop. 213,000), a former Portuguese colony and one of the smallest countries in Africa. Situated in the Gulf of Guinea, off Gabon, it is composed of two islands, Sao Tomé and Principe. Sao Tomé (836 km²), with its equatorial climate, has developed a number of agricultural products: cocoa, copra, bananas, quinquina, and coffee which, in the 1990s, represented 370 hectares under cultivation (arabica, robusta, liberia). This production, concentrated in the region of Monte Café, is in danger of dying out.

The capital, Sao Tomé, has a population of 53,000. The highest point in the country is the Pico de São Tomé (2,024 m). There are also two nature reserves covering 295 km², i.e. 30% of the surface area of the archipelago.

The island was discovered by the Portuguese explorers João de Santarem and Pedro Escobar on Saint Thomas' Day, 21 December 1471. During the 16th century, Portuguese colonists moved in, bringing with them the slaves who would work in the sugar cane plantations. The archipelago gained its independence on 12 July 1975, with President Manuel Pinto da Costa, who set up a single party Marxist regime. In 1990, multipartism was restored and the country opened the way to democracy. Despite attempted coups, the regime has remained in place, alternating between the two main parties.


Tchiloli: the theatre of the "children of the earth"

In Sao Tomé, one of the most astonishing traditions of theatre and oral transmission in the world still survives. The Tchiloli.


This epic theatre is performed by the farmers and fishermen who have inherited the role from their father for decades. The ancient text is attributed to a 16th century Portuguese author but its substance is in part African. The stories told were enjoyed by the "children of the earth" who learned the Tragedy of the Marquis of Mantua and Emperor Charlemagne. Adapted and enriched with symbols, they named it Tchiloli. Farce, folk spectacle, initiatory theatre, tragedy? All of this at the same time. The framework originated in São Tomé, an echo of the claims of the people of mixed race against their masters. It questions power through the story of Prince Charles, son of Charlemagne, who murdered for love. The action is punctuated by music and dance and a village band in forest ranger costume plays European music on African instruments. Body language is imitated in the attitude of the Portuguese landowners and, using anything they can lay their hands on, the peasants reconstitute costumes and accessories that take on the value of treasure: mirrors, sparkling waistcoats, morning coats, velvet robes, brass and chocolate paper crowns, weapons made from junk, lace aprons...