Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tanzanian coffee farmers go green

Coffee is one of the main crops in Northern Tanzania where the School of St Jude is located. Most coffee is produced by small farmers who are virtually subsistence farmers. They have few resources to improve their farms or farming practices, and they are badly affected when world coffee prices fall.

The Fair Trade movement has been important in improving their conditions. You can check out Black Gold, the film that spotlights the way poor coffee farmers are disadvantaged by market conditions.

Technoserve, has been helping Tanzanian coffee farmers by supporting an association called Kilicafe, comprising 93 farmer groups, and by lobbying the Tanzanian government to change rules that restricted direct sales to overseas buyers. This has allowed Kilicafe to work on producing and marketing quality coffee that they have successfully sold directly to the big US coffee merchant, Peets. In 2006, Starbucks tripled its orders from Kilicafe, directly impacting the income of over 10,000 smallholder coffee producers. Naturally, this means that the farmers receive higher prices and get a larger share of the sale price because middlemen are not involved.

Technoserve has helped Kilicafe farmers to develop business plans, get loans for processing equipment and establish market linkages with overseas buyers. TechnoServe’s coffee experts have also trained the group’s staff on coffee quality and financial management.

The BBC reports on another interesting development in the local coffee industry. A bio-gas converter, the first of its type in East Africa, is being tested by the 120 members of a local coffee farmers' group. Instead of using diesel to fuel the coffee processing machinery, a new process uses waste water from the processing of the raw coffee beans to produce methane. The waste water is high in acid and it is this acid that micro-organisms like to feed on. Methane is a by-product of the feeding process.

Coffee farmer Moses Urio trials the new bio-fuel

This bio-gas project is a part of a larger project funded by the Swiss government's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) to boost the incomes of Tanzanian coffee farmers.

This new bio-fuel process is a virtuous circle. It prevents the acidic water from being discharged into the environment and the saves the farmers the cost of buying diesel to power their machines.

But I wonder what happens next? How will the new process be taken beyond the pilot stage and rolled our across the industry?

There are around 55 pulperies run by farmers groups in the northern and southern coffee growing areas of Tanzania, all of which could benefit from bio-gas. But with set-up costs of around $4,000, few will be able to afford it. Mr Urio, one of the farmers in the pilot, said:

We are happy to test this technology, but if we had to pay to set it up it would be very difficult for us, even though we understand that it would take only a few years to repay the initial investment from the money we save from not buying fuel.

Perhaps low-interest loans could help these farmers to establish this more environmentally friendly process and to save some expenses at the same time.

It is really good to see these improvements for the coffee industry in Tanzania. The work of donors and not-for-profit organisations help to bring about these systemic and technical improvements. In Australia, this role is played by government departments, especially agriculture departments – think of the technical developments that are promoted to farmers by agricultural officers through local field days. None of this assistance to agriculture is available to farmers in poor countries because the governments do not have the resources due to their low tax base. Subsistence farmers don't pay income taxes because they don't sell anything.

Overseas aid to poor countries is essential if they are to benefit from the knowledge and technology of the modern world.

Your contribution to the School of St Jude will help educate the next generation of professionals and leaders of Tanzania.

Subscribe with Bloglines
Click here to subscribe to this blog.


mantis said...

"Overseas aid to poor countries is essential if they are to benefit from the knowledge and technology of the modern world."

The first world really need to leap frog the third world forwards. It's in everyones best interest. The planet can't afford the third world to make the same mistakes the first world made.

It really is a win win situation.

That Bio Fuel sounds like a very complete solution too.

Thanks for popping by my blog the other day Gillian.

I've finished my youtube video on the 0.7% issue.

Alicia said...

For those of you who are interested in the issue of Fair trade, there is a powerful documentary out called “Black Gold,” that documents the lives of Ethiopian coffee farmers and clearly demonstrates why all of us should be asking for Fair Trade coffee. The film was recently released in the theater but is now available to the public on DVD via California Newsreel. You can read more about the documentary or pick up a copy of it here at