Coffee Farmers in Tanzania Embrace Sustainability

For smallholder coffee farmers, a few small changes can mean big gains in productivity, quality, and long-term sustainability. Take a group of coffee producers in Tanzania, whose coffee quality improved dramatically when they began to process beans at uniform coffee washing stations rather than cleaning beans haphazardly at home.

We spoke with Nangula Heita-Mwampamba, sustainability manager at Tutunze Kahawa Limited (TKL), a Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM cooperative working to help Tanzanian farmers improve their practices, to find out how changes like these have empowered local producers and improved livelihoods.

Q: Tell us a bit about TKL.

A: Established in 2008, TKL is the Tanzanian subsidiary of Ecom Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd, a leading green coffee merchant with export operations in 17 coffee producing countries around the world. TKL has been working with smallholder coffee farmers in Tanzania since 2009, starting in the Mbinga District and spreading to Kilimanjaro and Kigoma in 2012. [In addition to] procuring cherries and parchment from these farmers, TKL also provides extension services geared toward farmer group formation and management, improving agricultural practices and certification standards, with the objective of increasing coffee yields and coffee quality in order to increase farmers’ income and improve livelihoods.

Q: Why did TKL pursue certification?

A:: Ecom provides growers with access to information—from better farming practices to market data to innovative ideas—so they can produce more, better, and more profitably. Certification is an important part of this, and serves two interdependent objectives. Firstly, it provides buyer-clients with differentiated products and solutions by providing better quality, traceability, and certification, and partnering to improve supply chains from farm to customer. Secondly, it enables farmers to become better [and] more profitable by providing training to attain certification and helping them to trade in higher-value markets.

Q: What were practices and attitudes like before you became involved with the Rainforest Alliance?

A: Before we started working with the Rainforest Alliance, there were not enough coffee processing units, which meant that farmers were processing the coffee at home, producing semi-washed coffees. This led to poor quality coffee due to inconsistencies [and a lack of uniformity] in processing methods. In addition, [poor] fertilizer choices along with wasteful application meant that the cost of production was raised and farmers’ margins were reduced. Poor soil management practices led to leaching and erosion, which then resulted in a reduction in soil fertility. We also experienced the harvesting of unripe and overripe cherries which resulted in pulping and fermentation problems.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges while working toward certification?

A: Yes. We had to ensure that all farmers received relevant training and that those farmers then adopted the practices that they had been trained in. Management of the wet milling facilities, particularly waste, proved to be a challenge; we had to ensure that surrounding water bodies and communities were protected.

Q: What differences has certification made to TKL?

A: Certification has made a difference to both our farmers and our buyers. For farmers, TKL is the preferred extension service provider and buyer of sustainably grown coffee. They have found that certification gives them a more reliable long-term market, with better prices. For our buyers, TKL is recognized as a leading source of sustainably produced and traceable smallholder coffee in Tanzania.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

A: We hope to provide extension and other services to 100,000 Tanzanian coffee and cocoa farmers by 2017, at least half of whom will attain certification. We would like more coffee farmers to practice sustainable farming practices that protect their health and the environment, improve soil management, and increase the yield and quality of coffee and other crops on their farms.

Ramon nut, a sustainable superfood - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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