“One of my adopted daughters found herself divorced with two children so I wanted to support her… Another girl I adopted is deaf and mute. I tried to send her to school, but she struggled, so I support her as best I can. My children need a lot of financial support from me. I have 11 dependents, it’s a lot to support them with everything – school, food and clothes. This is tough, and my only source of income is coffee. For me, coffee is next to God.”
Mengiste has worked as coffee farmer for 32 years and spends most of his time at his coffee nursery site, making sure that his coffee trees are healthy and that any falling trees and weeds are cleared. It’s hard work, but Mengiste’s children help out when they can with the harvesting, after direction from Farm Africa on the best types of berries to pick. The berries are then carefully dried until they’ve blackened and are ready to sell.
But Mengiste and his family are now facing a new challenge: climate change. The rainy season used to arrive like clockwork, but Mengiste can’t rely on regular rains any more.
“We had an extended dry season three years ago. We had no rain until May, which meant that the trees did not flower and we had no yield. Extended rain is just as bad – we have to purchase plastic sheets to dry our coffee, but we can’t protect it properly from heavy rains, and when it gets wet it decays.”
And even if the weather doesn’t wipe out his harvest, Mengiste still has to negotiate a fair price with local traders, who maximise their profits by paying farmers the bare minimum. Mengiste only earns about 50p for a kilo of coffee, which isn’t enough to allow him to invest in the right equipment for his coffee, such as wire mesh drying beds that would stop the beans from spoiling in wet weather.
Farm Africa has been helping Mengiste to prepare for unpredictable weather, growing a canopy of trees to protect his coffee plants from heavy rain, and constructing a storage house so that beans can be stored safely. And materials such as sacks and mesh wires mean that Mengiste can keep his coffee off the ground, keeping it clean and dry.
“There are changes now that Farm Africa has intervened. In earlier times we didn’t know how to harvest, we dried coffee on the floor. Now we have changed the way we process. We dry on the raised bed, and harvest selectively. I’m passing on my knowledge to my family because I want them to use these new methods too.”
With a bigger harvest and better quality bean, Mengiste has much more negotiating power, and can double the price of his coffee at market. With the increase in his income, Mengiste is full of hopes for the future. And as always, his family and his community come first:
“I have so many plans for the income I will earn from this harvest. I want to construct a better house with furniture and a better toilet. Also, at the moment we have to travel a long distance to buy food. I wish I could set up a service here for our local community.”