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Coffee Growing Up By 50%

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The Guardian


AFTER years of decline, coffee farmers in Zimbabwe are learning about sustainable methods, leading to improved yields and incomes through the Reviving Origins programme.

 

Deep in Zimbabwe’s south-eastern highlands, close to the Mozambique border, lies the prime coffee-growing region of Chipinge; home to the first ever coffee grown in Zimbabwe in the 18th century, and famous for its slowly sun-dried, smooth tasting, earthy, chocolatey flavours.

Chipinge sits 1,200 metres above sea level and enjoys deep, rich and fertile soils, moderate temperatures and plentiful rain – the perfect coffee-growing environment. But despite this, coffee production in Zimbabwe had been under pressure for many years, falling from 15 000 tonnes in the 1980s to just 500 tonnes in 2017, with many farmers turning to crops such as bananas and sugar beans instead.

A bitter blend of political unrest, economic instability and natural disasters caused Zimbabwe’s once thriving coffee production to plummet. As the industry declined, farms were seized and mills were abandoned, and high production costs forced farmers into debt.

Samuel Nyakuchena, 93, from the nearby Mutasa district witnessed these events. A coffee pioneer in his community, Nyakuchena began farming coffee in 1981 but like hundreds of other local smallholder farmers in the region, he was hit hard by the economic downturn and struggled to make a living.

Then in 2017, Nyakuchena heard that Nespresso was partnering with the global NGO TechnoServe to revive Zimbabwe’s coffee industry and restore local farmers’ economic opportunities. “I hadn’t been earning a good income from my coffee for years and was getting ready to retire,” says Nyakuchena. “But when I saw the prices I could get for good-quality coffee, I quickly changed my mind.” After enrolling on the programme, Nyakuchena earned the equivalent of the average annual income in Zimbabwe by selling his coffee directly to Nespresso.

The Nespresso Reviving Origins programme trains local Zimbabwean coffee farmers in Chipinge, Chimanimani, Mutare and Mutasa in agronomy, processing and sustainability best practices, such as climate-smart soil management and crop production, to help them increase their yields and improve their incomes.

At the same time, Nespresso acts as the primary buyer and pays premium prices for their quality coffee. This arrangement enables smallholder farmers such as Nyakuchena to be financially secure and helps them to reinvest in their farms, families and communities.

“What else does one need on Earth?” says Nyakuchena light-heartedly.

“We have bought 15 bags of fertiliser, some food to celebrate our hard work, and of course a special wardrobe for my wife.” With the right training and support, the programme strengthens the long-term sustainability and resilience of farming communities in Zimbabwe and provides many with a route towards financial stability.

The rise in farmer income also creates a multiplier effect in the local economy. When farmers receive payment, there is a rise in local market activity as they tend to buy goods and services from within the community. Furthermore, the programme is creating new job opportunities as people are being hired at all stages of the coffee value chain; from pruning and harvesting to washing and processing.

“Many farmers are doubling or even tripling their income after learning better growing techniques,” says Midway Bhunu, TechnoServe’s coffee programme manager in Zimbabwe. “Since this training started, there’s been a 43% increase in the number of households growing coffee, and we expect an increase of more than 50% in coffee trees by early next year.”

Ruth Angeline Gopo, 42, who cares for her ageing father and four children, has also joined the programme. In 2018, Gopo was producing about 85kg of coffee but after being trained, her yield nearly tripled the following year to 215kg. “I am now able to pay for my father’s medicines and school fees for all four children,” says Gopo. “I don’t see myself leaving coffee farming and will continue working hard to produce the best coffee,” she says proudly.

Gopo encourages other women in her community to undertake coffee farming, and wants to start a Women’s Coffee Club, where women coffee farmers can meet to discuss gender-related issues, such as access to land and financial decision-making.

To date, the Reviving Origins project has trained nearly 600 coffee farming households in sustainable agronomic practices to improve production and help protect their crops from climate threats. This concerted effort has not only increased the farmers’ incomes but enhanced coffee quality and productivity, while fostering sustainable farming practices.

Despite several setbacks over the years, from severe drought to political unrest, today, with the help of Nespresso, a new era of sustainable coffee production has begun in Zimbabwe and local smallholder coffee farmers and their wider communities are reaping the rewards.