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Coffee

The simple but lucrative coffee bean is a coveted crop the world over. Yet many coffee farmers in eastern Africa are unable to benefit much from producing and selling it, with many earning less than $1 a day.

Volatile price fluctuations in the global coffee market see the volume of coffee exports increasing but prices falling, which puts added pressure on hard-working farmers who are already struggling and living in poverty.

Climate change is another obstacle that coffee farmers face, with rising temperatures and erratic rainfall plaguing eastern Africa. The much-loved Arabica coffee plant is particularly sensitive to temperature rises, which limit its growth, productivity and increase its susceptibility to pests.

Many coffee farmers lack the tools, training and bargaining power to build profitable businesses, and women often suffer the most. Women typically contribute the bulk of coffee-related labor but do not have access to land, coffee trees or finance. Farm Africa is working to empower women in this traditionally male dominated industry.

We provide farmers with tools and training in improving coffee quality, productivity, business practices and market integration to help farmers lift themselves out of poverty and protect the forests around them.

At Farm Africa we train by doing, working practically with farmers so that they can share their knowledge, and gradually encourage whole communities to learn new techniques. Our training is two-way – it’s a discussion. We encourage farmers to share their own experiences and techniques so that we can find the way forward together.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia gave the world Coffee Arabica, the most commonly consumed species of coffee in the world. Growing under the shade of the forest canopy in Ethiopia’s Bale Eco-region, this is the only place on Earth where unique coffee varieties still exist wild in Afromontane rainforests.

Naturally organic and distinctive in flavour, with premium qualities fitting for both local consumption and the export market, Ethiopian coffee boasts a high value. But very few coffee farmers have been able to take advantage of this opportunity.

What’s more, protection of the forest in Bale is extremely urgent. Livelihood opportunities for communities surrounding the forest are few and far between and the forest is at risk of being converted into farmland.

But when farmers build profitable and sustainable coffee businesses, they don’t need to clear trees to create space for agriculture. Farm Africa’s project, Marketing Bale’s wild coffee, supported by Conservation International and the Global Environment Facility through the Conservation Agreements Private Partnership Platform (CAPPP), helps wild coffee farmers develop production, processing and trading systems that enable farmers to sell to lucrative speciality coffee markets.

Our community-led systems also collect environmental data, which allow farmers to capitalise on the coffee’s eco-friendly credentials. We are working to create a ‘win-win’ situation whereby coffee farmers in Ethiopia have a sustained economic incentive to protect the forests.

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Uganda

In Uganda, Farm Africa worked to close the gender gap in the coffee industry by providing women with greater autonomy at the household, farm and cooperative level.

Women may be the backbone of the coffee industry in Kanungu, western Uganda, which fuels the local economy, but it is typically men who have control over the profits. This is exacerbated by women’s lack of access to land, finance and representation in cooperatives, which help farmers sell their coffee to lucrative markets.

Matched funding from the UK government to Farm Africa’s 2019 Coffee is Life UK Aid Match appeal provided 2,640 women in Kanungu with support to access the coffee market, participate in coffee cooperatives and take on leadership roles, so they could have more say over their own profits.

The project’s results significantly surpassed our expectations. In November 2020, a survey of 348 female coffee farmers who took part in the project found the women’s economic empowerment in agriculture (WEEIA) score had increased from 22% to 85% in 2019. The score reflects the average percentage of women reporting that they have access to, and control over incomes; strengthened household level decision-making power; and increased access to resources and market opportunities. Our target had been to achieve a score of 40%.

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DR Congo

Extreme weather, armed conflict and the pandemic are just some of the threats facing farming communities along the DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. But this lush, volcanic land is home to some of the finest Arabica coffee in the world and Farm Africa is working to ensure local farmers realize their potential.

Until recently post-harvest processing was basic and access to markets was scarce, but Farm Africa has joined forces with The Virunga National Park on a project funded by the European Union that strengthens the business of cooperatives and their members to lift people out of poverty.

The project approach is based on a holistic and sustainable farming model. It includes training on agricultural practices and coffee processing and has established nurseries for coffee and other trees.

Systems have been strengthened to meet Fairtrade and Organic certifications, while long-term marketing partnerships are being developed, so cooperatives can build a myriad of relationships with importers, roasters, brands and retailers.

We want these cooperatives to operate successfully in international specialty coffee markets and continue business during periods of instability.

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Price Risk Management

Coffee is a risky business for both farmers and cooperatives, with farm gate prices dictated by international markets. Meanwhile in eastern Africa coffee farmers and producer organizations must often make uninformed decisions on pricing strategies, increasing the risk to their businesses and livelihoods.

When prices are low, coffee can leave farmers unable to earn a decent income and cooperatives on the verge of bankruptcy. When price shocks are severe, farmers cannot cover the cost of production and may default on loans.

Farm Africa’s price risk management project, in partnership with Root Capital, helped coffee cooperatives in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo reduce the risk that these unpredictable global prices pose to smallholder farmers’ incomes.

Funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation programme, the project delivered a series of tailored workshops to representatives from coffee cooperatives in price risk management strategies.

Cooperatives that successfully completed the training and demonstrated improved price risk management capacities then became eligible to gain access to loans from Root Capital to support their further growth.