Archive for March, 2010

MIT Students Hit The Road

About a week ago I got an email from my friend Shayna Harris, introducing her new blog and a really exciting adventure she was getting ready to embark upon. I know Shayna from her time leading Oxfam America’s grassroots fair trade movement building campaign. There, Shayna spearheaded a dynamic and inspired movement that I believe significantly shaped the public’s awareness of fair trade and catalyzed the strong growth we’ve seen year after year in sales and market growth.

Well now Shayna’s in Brazil with a group of her classmates from MIT’s Sloan MBA program.

What is Shayna doing in Brazil with a bunch of the (soon) to be most qualified MBA’s in the world?

This spring, a group of MIT Sloan students will investigate the challenges of rural development in the emerging markets of Brazil and India and explore how innovation can address some of the world’s most pressing issues regarding food security, climate change mitigation, and rural livelihoods. The students will meet with for-profit companies in major financial centers and with family farmers in rural regions.  They will also look at examples of top-down and bottom-up social innovation, all with the aim of comparing notes on what is happening in each of these growing markets.

Here you’ll learn of the value of these trips from the travelers, while they’re traveling; how they face challenges to their thinking and develop new approaches. Follow along and get a glimpse of the kind of hands-on intellectual adventures that make the MIT Sloan experience extraordinary.

What’s exciting to me is that this trip will expose tomorrow’s business leaders to the realities that farmers (especially small-scale family farmers) face, and also the exciting possibilities that exist for creating new and creative market structures that bring them and their higher quality, more sustainably produced food to consumers.

The challenges facing our partners—farmers in Brazil, and farmers around the world—is how to diversify their production and create lasting and profitable market linkages. In many cases, coffee becomes the last option on the table after farmers have lost their markets for grains, fruits, and vegetables. The challenge of the future will be to continue to develop fair trade models for export crops (like coffee) that add value and shorten the supply chain, but also the growth and development of local fair trade models that link these same farmers with markets for a diversity of crops and products. As they say, it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket.

Kudos to Shayna and her program for putting together this great project. It’s good news that one of the leading business schools in the world is putting aside the coats and ties and getting into something a little more comfortable for a trip into the world where healthy topsoil matters as much as mergers and where a simple meal in a farmer’s home brings as much joy as a fancy dinner out on the town.

Check out the MIT Sloan Brazil Blog

Donatien Siboniyo, Rest in Peace

It’s with sadness that I share the tragic news of the death of Mr. Donatien Siboniyo. Donatien died suddenly of a heart attack last week in Kigali, where he was studying English and business management. Donatien was the acting General Manager of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, our Rwandan partners, and had served as the Cooperative’s production manager since their founding over 7 years ago.

Donatien was a warm man who always welcomed me back to Rwanda me with a friendly twinkle in his eye. Arriving at Musasa, home to the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative after a long journey, I would find him standing outside the main office with representative’s of the Board of Directors. Seeing him standing there made me feel comfortable and confident in the learning and growth that we’ve achieved since our partnership began. He was in many ways for me proof of the knowledge that had been learned and applied by this cooperative. His technical know-how was assurance that the coffee would be produced flawlessly, and handled with great care and attention.

In recent years, Donatien rose through the ranks of the Cooperative’s staff. When the previous General Manager was fired after discoveries of corruption, Donatien was brought in as a trusted and competent leader in the community who could fill the leadership void in a challenging time. He was young—in his early thirties—and his youthful energy and deep commitment provided great stability in a difficult time.

Sadly, his life ended much too early. His loss is a deep loss for his family, the farmers of Dukunde Kawa, and those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him.  Donatien’s legacy will live in the Cooperative he helped to build, and the community that it supports. We’ll remember his leadership and courage in a difficult time, and we’ll miss his warmth and happy smile. We will continue to do our best to be the partners his community needs and I hope that this work can be deserving of the honor of his memory.

Mr. Donatien Siboniyo is survived by his wife Beline Muhayemaliya, his daughter Amina Aime Niyo, and his two sons Zaburi Aime Ufite and Omega Aime Niyo.

Donatien Siboniyo, July 2006

Climate change will change coffee

As regular readers of our blog will note, the topic of climate and climate change comes up pretty frequently. Coffee (and specifically great coffee) is highly sensitive to shifts in seasonal weather patterns, temperature, and rainfall. This means that coffee farmers are among the people who will be most affected by climate change. And this means that you, dear reader, assuming that you’re also a coffee drinker, are going to be impacted too.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent posting from Sustainable Harvest, a leading coffee coffee importer with a long track-record of leading the charge towards a more sustainable coffee trade.

In coffee growing regions throughout the world, the effects of climate change are beginning to threaten farmers’ livelihoods established through generations of hard work. In many countries, producers are taking note and seeking ways to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

In Colombia, severe weather over the past few years has resulted in the lowest coffee yield in more than three decades. Warming weather contributed to heavier rainfall during the wet season, causing the growth of leaf rust on coffee plants and worsening beetle infestations. As climate change continues, Colombian coffee farmers are faced with difficult choices in the years ahead: expensive preventative measures may raise coffee prices but switching to hardier varieties can decrease cup quality. The farmers’ decisions will affect the global coffee market.

Click here to read the full post from their blog.

And if you’re curious to learn a bit more, here’s a link to postings from our blog on the topic of climate change and coffee.

Introducing our man in Chinandega, Nicaragua: Ernesto Somarriba Ordonez

Ernesto

When our party of seven arrived at the restaurant in Matagalpa for lunch on our first day in Nicaragua two weeks ago, there was Ernesto, sitting under a tree, waiting for us. He was about 30 pounds heavier then the young man I had last seen nine years ago.  He is married now to his college sweetheart; they have a 10 month old baby girl, Katlynn.  Ernesto traveled with us for two days, ending up on Wednesday night in Jinotega where the group was bedding down. Our hotel was just one block from where his wife was living with her parents and the baby. His job in Chinandega allowed him to see them only once every 15 days, being a three hour bus ride away and earning a salary too meagre for them to live together. Holy cow! What a painful way to be in love. But as fate would have it, I was looking for a Nicaraguan Blogger to send us reports on life in Nicaragua as seen from a Nicaraguan’s perspective. Ernesto and I struck up a deal that enabled his wife and baby to move to Chinandega to live together for the first time under the same roof. At breakfast the following morning, we all met his wife and baby. So beautiful! When I asked him what he was going to do with the rest of his day, he said, “We are packing. The bus leaves in two hours, and we will be on it together.”
So here is Ernesto’s first Blog entry. We can expect many more.
– Paul Katzeff
________________________________________________________________________________________
Hello everybody, my name is Ernesto Somarriba, I’m 34 years old, I’m Nicaraguan and of course I do live here in Nicaragua in a place named Chinandega.

Now I want to tell you my experience with the cupping labs for small coffee farmer. In 1998, I was in my third  year of agriculture engineering at UNA (Universidad Nacional Agraria) in Managua. I was young at that moment without experience, at the same time I was working for a  lodging house in Managua, because I have to eat and to have a place to sleep during  the time I was studying engineering. This house was visited by pleople from The United States and Canada, and of course they spoke English, so I decided to learn English, I said, if I have some problems with the language, I can ask  the visitors for help. I was studying English very hard, I spent about 3 or 4 hours a day.

In 2000, I received a phone call from UNAG (Union Nacinal de Agricultores y Ganaderos). The caller was Byron Corrales.  He said, “there is a delegation from the United States coming this evening and we need a translator for tomorrow.” I told him that I never did that job before, but he said, “Do you want to come or not? ” I said, “Yes, I will do it, give me the address of the hotel that I have to be at and the hour.”

The next morning I went to the hotel, and then arrived Byron Corrales. I met him personally and he said, “there is one person that needs someone to help with the translation. He is a coffee buyer, his name is Paul Katzeff, and you have to do the best you can.” And I guess I did, well I think so, because they looked for me again the next time Paul came to Nicaragua, but this time I was with Paul, Byron, and the technicians. We went to Palacaguina,Yali, Jinotega, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Arajuez, where they were planning the best way to build the cupping labs. I was translating for them. They got agreement from the coffee farmers and cooperative leaders about the best construction styles for the cupping labs, and they started building them. While they were building (2000-2001) I finished my engineering degree, I got off of the project and I stated working in other things.

Nine years later I got an invitation from Paul Katzeff, to go back to see the cupping labs, and now you can see that it is a job well done. These labs work very well and the farmers take advantage of it. They are able to assess how good their coffee is, and because of that, they can improve the quality and get better prices. This means that they have better life conditions for their families because the cupping labs are useful. Now I feel proud of it because I helped in some way.
For some reason in this moment I’m working as an English teacher in a high school here in Chinandega, I have been doing this for 5 years, but in the future I have a good story to tell to my grandchildren.

More next week….
Erensto Somarriba

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