21/11/23

A premium for Tarekea’s Co-operative on the slopes of Kilimanjaro

 

Article by Benjamin Briot de Vérèz 

 

 

In mid-October, Andres and Benjamin flew to Moshi, Tanzania, to the South slopes of the Kilimanjaro, where Dormans’ office is located. Dormans owns several offices in Tanzanian coffee-producing regions besides Moshi, such as Mbinga and Mbozi in the South, as well as a warehouse in Dar es Salaam, where coffee is processed before shipment. It was his first time in Moshi and his first impression was how visible the eternal snows topping the summit of Kilimanjaro were. Surrounded by the Shira Plateau, it is the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

 

It is in that scenery that they met Jonathan, from Bean There, their South African client. They were going to travel to Tarekea, a small village on the eastern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, located only 2 km South of the Kenyan border, to present the Co-operative with a Direct Fair-Trade premium accumulated during four years of harvest.

 

They left Moshi early in the morning, with Benjamin, Andres, Jonathan, Boss (in charge of QC in Moshi) and Austeriuis who is Dormans' Field Officer for the region. It took them slightly more than an hour to drive through the serpentine roads surrounded by green vegetation and flowering Jacarandas, which according to the tradition, announces prosperity and warmer days. The co-operative secretary greeted them in Tarekea. He manages day-to-day operations and solves challenges with the farmers. 

 

The entire region around Kilimanjaro is known for its coffee cherries. The high altitudes, ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 meters above sea level, contribute to the slow maturation of the coffee cherries, allowing a complex flavor profile to develop. The coffee we cupped had a vibrant acidity, balanced body and hints of fruits, honey and even dark chocolates and nuts.

 

 

After being introduced to the team of the co-operative members, they headed to Roman Msingi’s farm, a member of the co-operative since its creation. He owns 3.5 acres and has been growing coffee on those lands for more than 30 years. He has around 300 trees that produce slightly less than 10kg each (an outstanding yield compared to the Tanzanian average of 3-4kg per tree). Coffee trees are combined with banana trees, which allows shade. Intercropping is very common in the region. It increases Roman’s incomes, improves resilience to climate impacts and sequesters higher amounts of carbon as opposed to mono-cropping. Roman also owns four cows and half a dozen chickens. He sells the milk and uses the manure as a natural fertilizer for the coffee trees.  

 

Roman shared with them that out of his eleven kids, his youngest son who is currently living in Dar es Salaam, would take over the farm. They then presented Roman and his wife with a bag of 500g of roasted coffee from Tarekea, that Jonathan markets in South Africa. Roman was pleased as he explained that he does not usually taste the coffee he produces. Subsequently, they visited a second coffee farm before heading back to the community hall, where more than 16 farmers and the board of the Co-operative had regrouped.

 

The board meeting began as each of the participants presented themselves: 14 farmers and 7 board members. The president of the cooperative explained that a premium had been awarded for each kg of coffee sold to Bean There and that the objective of the meeting was to decide how the premium would be spent. 

 

They expected the investment to be discussed and debated openly. On one hand, they had to be clear, Dormans had no word on what should be done with the money. It is the producers. On the other hand, our team came up with a set of three investment proposals, supported by a cost analysis and requirements for each project. The goal was to advise and support financial expertise projects that Dormans had already been promoting in other regions.

 

 

The first project was the installment of a central processing unit (CPU) on the site of Tarekea AMCOS. It would allow farmers to improve the quality of their coffee. Indeed, home processing is currently the norm in Tarekea, which can lead to less uniformity in quality and cupping profile. The second project was the construction of a hardware store that would allow the local community to purchase equipment needed in construction projects at a preferential price. Lastly, the third project was the construction of a Hall in the heart of the Tarekea community. A Hall would diversify the income of members within the cooperative by using the space as a local market. It could also provide a centre for community events.

 

The proposals were led by many open discussions. Farmers shared their thoughts, some defended that building a CPU would be beneficial to improve their coffee quality and subsequently increase its price. However, some members feared that the community was too small and that the coffee cherries harvested were insufficient to make the investment viable. Others claimed that the hardware would help them finish construction work in their homes and farms. None of the farmers nor board members defended the community Hall idea. 

 

The turnout of the meeting was unclear until Dorman field officer, Austeriuis, stood up and spoke to the board and farmers in Swahili (thankfully, Boss was also a great translator). It was clear that the farmers had been convinced and that a consensus was on the verge of being found. Austeriuis explained that coffee is what brought all of them together today. The CPU will allow consistency in quality as all the cherries are fermented and dried during the same amount of time. It will favour consistency and harmonise the flavour profile. A CPU increases efficiency and productivity, due to its low maintenance cost machinery. Moreover, the co-operative already owns an industrial pulping machine which will finally be in use.

 

Furthermore, the ecological aspect is significant. The new CPU would save water through re-circulation during processing. Currently, the water used for home processing is not necessarily clean or reused. Additionally, the coffee skins would be collected by the farmers to be used as natural fertilisers. Lastly, this new CPU can be a sign of growth, strengthening the link of the AMCOS and empowering the younger generation to take over one day. Andres added that the co-operative would have the full support and expertise of Dorman to bring the project to a success. Farmers and board members were asked by the chairman if they all agreed. It was very pleasant to see that everybody spoke freely and that the decision was made by consensus. Cheerful affirmation arose across the hall. “Yes, let's do it!” one said, “We should not fear change, let’s build this processing plant,” another said. 

 

Coffee home processing had just been replaced by a central processing unit in the village of Tarekea!

 

This assembly meeting was followed by a memorable lunch with the co-operative members. A real feast, composed of Pilau (spiced rice), goat meat on wood skewers cooked over an open fire pit, greens vegetables, plantains, pili pili sauce (chilli and habanero peppers), and of course, a very concentrated homemade beer produced with bananas. We had a great time, sharing stories and jokes before heading back to Moshi.

 

It was a real pleasure to see how close the Dormans & ECOM teams were with the farmers and how they were Growing Innovators on the ground. Benjamin is looking forward in the coming months to spend more time with producers, discuss challenges and opportunities and participate in ECOM's regenerative journey.

 

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