Most international attention on Timor-Leste is directed at the fortunes of the Greater Sunrise hydrocarbon project but another sector has the ability to affect Timorese lives more directly. Coffee accounts for 90 percent of the country’s non-oil and gas export revenues but has the potential to play a much bigger role in rural development. Yet with half the yields per unit area of even Papua New Guinea, the sector requires a substantial overhaul.
There is some controversy over whether it was Chinese traders or Portuguese colonists who first brought coffee trees to the country. Either way, by the 1860s coffee accounted for at least half of the territory’s entire export revenues, although a small number of Portuguese landowners controlled both cultivation and sales.