We asked Sam Gibson, ethical projects officer at UK-based Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, to share an update about our work together with coffee farmers in Rwanda and Uganda. He writes…
A Rainforest Alliance training session is in action and it’s a hive of activity. Mamadi Donnet, the host farmer, is guiding fellow smallholder [farmers] around his plot – pointing out how coffee trees and banana trees should be spaced correctly and which trees will provide the best shade to his precious coffee cherries. Norman Mukuru, the Rainforest Alliance’s consulting program coordinator, chimes in on the peer-based learning from time to time, asking useful questions and adding nuggets of wisdom. The local farmers are keen to get involved as they practice new pruning techniques on Mamadi’s healthy trees.
We’re here to see work taking place with coffee smallholders in Rwanda and Uganda thanks to our latest project with the Government’s Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH) and the Rainforest Alliance. The project is set to improve the livelihoods of over 14,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Rwanda and Uganda [while] guaranteeing future sources of high quality, sustainably certified African coffee to meet the growing demands of our Taylors of Harrogate coffee brand.
From our previous FRICH project with tea farmers in Rwanda, we know what a difference Rainforest Alliance certification and quality improvements can make to factories, farms and the livelihoods of farmers. Our original tea project saw us working with the Rainforest Alliance and Rwandan tea producers to provide training on sustainable agricultural practices for over 10,000 smallholder farmers. The training helped growers to improve water conservation, promote best practice in waste management and focus on improving annual tea yields, as well as improving environmental and working conditions in three factories. As a result there has been a tangible and sustained increase in the quality of tea available on the market and we have doubled our purchases of tea from Rwanda.
Our hope is that our coffee smallholder project will deliver similar benefits, as well as improving environmental conditions and health and safety. We are working with two suppliers on this in Rwanda and have had a good response from farmers taking part in the Rainforest Alliance training program, who really recognized the long term impacts of what they were doing and how it is enhancing the quality of their crop, as well as caring for the environment.
Our work in Uganda is looking at improving coffee quality and introducing pioneering work to help prepare farmers for the ongoing effects of climate change. The smallholders that we are working with in Uganda already have Rainforest Alliance certification and are feeling the benefits of this accomplishment. Beatrice, one of the farmers being trained on Mamadi’s farm, told us about how she was able to store food and give her children a good education now that she was farming under Rainforest Alliance certification. She is excited to be taking part in our new project to help farmers adapt to climate change and improve their yields.
Mamadi has been a coffee farmer for most of his life and has seen many changes over the years–both in the coffee industry and in the weather that is so crucial to his livelihood. The rains and dry periods have become increasingly unpredictable and coffee farmers have contended with long periods of drought.
He is keen for as many farmers as possible to be trained in climate-smart farming techniques and that’s one reason why he hosts training sessions at his own coffee smallholding. He shows fellow farmers how good practices can help to adapt to climate change and can also increase the yield and quality of coffee that they grow. “After training and transferring the knowledge into my garden every year I am increasing my coffee production,” he says. “I am also improving the amount of coffee I get from each tree–now I can get four kilos per tree…or five.”
It has been impressive to see farmer training in action–the Rainforest Alliance takes a very hands-on approach, teaching farmers simple techniques like making compost from crop residue, planting shade trees around the coffee and mulching the soil to prevent soil erosion.
“I think I have benefited from the training and the more money I get means the more work I can do,” says Mamadi. “The training and the increasing of my coffee production has made me see better things for my family.”
Want to learn more about this innovative initiative? Check out a film about the project over at The Guardian website!