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Bat spit puts a shine on Madagascan coffee

In the rich volcanic soil of Madagascar's Itasy province grows a coffee that's coveted by bats and humans alike.

But for farmer Nirina Malala Ravaonasolo, the fact that the winged mammals come to nibble on the beans is not a nuisance.

Bat spit makes this already expensive coffee even more valuable.

(SOUNDBITE) (Malagasy) NIRINA MALALA RAVAONASOLO, PRESIDENT OF A WOMEN'S BOURBON POINTU COFFEE CULTIVATORS GROUP IN ITASY, SAYING:

"We can live off coffee today. Before, it was of no interest to the inhabitants of Itasy, but now we can make a living. If production continues to grow, we can harvest more and more tonnes.

Farmers around the world are turning to premium and rare beans to shore up their incomes amid a global glut in more run-of-the-mill coffee that has driven down prices.

Here they grow bourbon pointu beans which sell for $101 per pound, more than 50 times the price of commodity grade coffee.

But when wild bats chew on the beans a reaction between their digestive fluids and the outside air results in coffee with a uniquely smooth flavor, according to customers. And that sends the price even higher.

Animal involvement in coffee production is not new - Southeast Asia's Kopi Luwak coffee comes from beans salvaged from civet cat excrement; Thailand has elephant dung coffee; and there's a Costa Rican bat coffee.

But this may be the first time such coffee is being commercially produced in Africa, according to one specialist buyer.

It's the brainchild of farmer Jacques Ramarlah.

Two years ago he introduced the beans to the area, and after seeing bats nibbling on them he now wants to focus on the premium product.

(SOUNDBITE) (French) JACQUES RAMARLAH, FOUNDER OF THE KAFEN RAZANA BOURBON POINTU COFFEE BRAND, SAYING:

"Next year, we will ask farmers to focus only on the coffee chewed by bats. This means the farmers will harvest only the mature seeds and that will improve the quality of our harvest."

The global specialty coffee market is forecast to hit $83.6 billion in 2025, more than double its 2018 size and Ramarlah wants to meet that demand.

His farmers produced two tonnes of coffee this year but plan to reach 20 tonnes by 2021.