Archive for July, 2010

Investing in Rwanda’s Climate Stability and Future

It’s nice to be able to share some exciting (good) news this morning. Nearly three weeks after a fire nearly devastated our company, a project that we’ve been working on for over two years is about to take off. The project, a coordinated effort to incentivize the 2,000 plus farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda to plant trees, has officially received 30,000 Euros in funding from the Dutch charity Progreso. The initial stages will begin shortly.

Why does it matter that Rwandan coffee farmers plant trees?

For a number of reasons, obviously. Shade trees are an integral part of a healthy coffee farm, and provide valuable ecosystem services that are well known and documented. Additionally they provide habitat for wildlife. A well forested coffee farm is simultaneously a source of income for the farmer, and a healthy part of the ecosystem, a “two birds with one stone” reality that’s been behind our efforts for almost two decades now to push for the spread of shade grown, organic coffee cultivation.

But there’s another reason—climate change—that brings the need for shade and ecological diversity into sharper focus. With global temperatures rising, and weather patterns becoming more and more erratic, coffee farms (and farmers everywhere) can expect to see longer dry periods, more intense wet periods, and less regular seasonal patterns. These changes will be especially extreme in the tropics. As a result, the the occurrence and severity of droughts will increase, powerful concentrations of rainfall will erode soils, and the very quality of coffee—dependent on cool night temperatures to enable slow fruit ripening, could likely diminish overtime.

Trees, though not a panacea, offer the farmers a fighting chance. Their shade, leaf litter and roots can help soil retain moisture and stability. They trap humidity under their canopy, and can reduce day and night temperatures which can maintain the necessary cool temperatures even as overall temperatures increase. In short, trees may save the ecosystem, and save the farmers livelihoods.

“The cooperative is important for us because I have three children in secondary school—they are orphans from the genocide. We are farmers, and coffee is the crop that we use to raise the money for school tuition.”

Augustine Rebagisha, Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Rwanda

Please read on for more information, directly from the recently approved project proposal.


A majority of the 1,810 family farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative have never driven a car. They mostly live without electricity and consume food that is grown within 100 miles. They farm small plots of land without the use of tractors or other motorized machinery. While these farmers bear little responsibility for the causes of climate change, they are among those who will be most impacted by its consequences.

By the time a youth in the cooperative’s community is 25, they will likely see average rainfall in the wet season (December-February) increase by 12%. By the time they are 50, it is likely that rainfall during the wet season will increase by 25%. Conversely, when they are 25, they will likely see rainfall in the dry season (June-August) decrease by 8%, and by the time they are 50 a likely decrease by 15%.[1] These changes in rainfall are likely to be coupled with more intensified extreme weather (ie rains are likely to be concentrated in shorter, more intense storms)  and are likely to cause increased flooding and erosion, a loss of surface soils water holding capacity by 25-75%,[2] a high likelihood of full or partial crop loss due to drought and flooding, and a sum impact that threatens to destroy individual farmers’ livelihoods and the community’s future.

Coupled with population growth these anticipated changes dramatically underline the need for adaptation plans that integrate the ecological, social, and economic needs of the Musasa community. These anticipated impacts of climate change point to the need for environmental restoration to enhance local ecosystems’ natural resiliency, investment in community led resource managment, and cooperative led efforts for a proactive engagement with the anticipated threats to the farmers, their livelihoods, food security, and their children’s future.

Project Goals


To secure the long-term sustainability of farming in the Musasa region, with a focus on sustaining the production of coffee as value-added cash crop; to improve coffee farmers’ productivity and on-farm biodiversity; to establish shade tree cover on coffee farms; to develop alternate food and cash crops; to protect watersheds and reforest marginalized land; to continue the development of quality of life in conjunction with development of ecosystem health and overall environmental sustainability.

On Individual Farms


Increase and sustain productivity of coffee farms and improve nutrition and income stream through the following strategies:

-Establish shade cover on all member farms and increase soil fertility trough planting of leguminous trees and coffer crop, high mulching trees and increased access to and use livestock manure.

-Increase access to livestock for production of organic manure/fertilizer

-Identify symbiotic food and vegetable crops and a public education campaign to increase farmers  food self-sufficiency, mitigate increased food cost and  improve nutrition /quality of life.

-Identify alternate cash crops , market opportunities  for value-added production , and sales avenues to diversify farmer’s incomes.


Community Wide

Manage and protect community watersheds, enhance protection of headwaters, and increase water retention and aquifer storage through the following strategies:

-Create public education campaign to increase community awareness of environmental and resource management issues, climate change , and the cooperatives leadership in addressing the community’s economic and environmental challenges.

-Work with local teachers and schools to create a youth-centered outreach and education program.

-Create an environmental literacy campaign for cooperative members and build collective sense of ownership of the community’s ecosystem.

-Map watersheds and create a public education campaign around awareness of watershed geography and corresponding stakeholders.

-Identify headwaters and strategies to protect and enhance soil absorption and erosion control.

-Identify soil absorption and erosion control strategies for down –watersheds areas , including  reforestation ,building of swales and drainage channels , and planting of erosion controlling food and fodder crops.

-Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.

Strategy and Execution

The execution of this project will be under the responsibility of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, which will plan for different activities and make a follow-up and necessary evaluations of the project. The project is separated into an initial three-year period followed by a 2-year extension. At the end of 3 years period The Cooperative will make a final evaluation and report to be addressed to funders. Pending good execution and management of the project funds and strategies, The Cooperative hopes to establish a solid basis of understanding implemented in its members and funders for the continuation of the project’s second-term goals and strategies.

The project’s first phase will focus on the following five steps:

1.Public education and general sensitization focused on climate change and its likely impacts


In this first step, the cooperative leadership will be responsible for identifying and training 10 members representing 10 area villages/zones the intention and goals of this project. These 10 members will be responsible for leading public education campaign in their respective villages/zones. The cooperative will make follow-up visits in each village/zone to monitor transmission and reinforce message, intention, and goals.

As the environmental problem is and climate change is not are not a specific problem for The Cooperative’s members only, it will be necessary to cooperative members and non-members in this step of the project. The Cooperative’s Ruli and Coko Station agronomists will be asked to join the training team, and will be responsible for accompanying trainers and offering additional support.

The Cooperative will work with local schools to enlist local primary and secondary school-age youth. The Cooperative has identified that youth are better able than their parents to understand the problems of deforestation, erosion, and climate change. Youth will play certainly a fundamental role in their parent’s education.

2.Establishment of cooperative-operated seedling nurseries


This second step will create shade cover trees nurseries from which the members will be able to obtain seedlings of strategically-selected tree varieties for intercropping in their coffee plantations. Trees will be selected for their best mix of the following attributes: fast growing, high-mulching, low-water usage, fruit-bearing, and nitrogen-fixing.  A central seedling nursery will be established at each washing station under the management of The Cooperative.

See Appendix A for a draft list of best practices.

3.Shade cover tree planting and on-farm erosion control


Timed to coincide with the conclusion of the initial sensitization and training phases, the distribution of tree seedlings from the three cooperative-run nurseries will enable an initial round of on-farm tree planting. Tree planting guidelines will be established by The Cooperative, and best practices will be defined and clearly shared with farmers using an enumerated list of criteria established by The Cooperative. Later, this list will be used to evaluate model farms (see step 4 below).

In addition to model best-practices for on-farm tree planting, best practices for swale construction will be established and articulated. Farmers will be simultaneously encouraged to reforest their farms, establish shade canopy, increase natural mulching, and protect topsoil through erosion control.

4. Evaluation of members participation in the project and distribution of cows

Increasing access to organic manure is a critical to the maintenance of existing farm productivity through enhancement of soil health and fertility. To accomplish this goal and to create an incentive-based project, The Cooperative is seeking funding for 25 cows which will be offered as rewards to the 25 farmers with the highest scores on the pre-established evaluation criteria. Evaluation will be conducted by a panel of 3 representatives from the democratically elected Board of Directors. These farmers will be responsible for breeding these cattle as soon as possible, and the first calf will be made available to the next 25-best performing farmers in a second round, followed by continuing rounds of breeding and calf-sharing.

5.Project evaluation and Final report

The project has to be executed for three years according to the action plan presented by The Cooperative. After the three years period , the cooperative will execute the first evaluation for the first part of the project based on the successful completion of steps 1-4.

The second 2-year phase of the project will focus on community-wide reforestation and watershed protection efforts. It is expected that the first three year phase will mobilize public will and support for environmental restoration, as well as the need for such restoration in the face of climate change. A survey mapping out watershed health, strengths and weakness will be conducted, and a community and government resources will be mobilized to reforest marginalized ridgelines, increase absorption of headwater surface soils, and prevent erosion caused by heavy rains.

  1. Map watersheds and identify strengths, weaknesses, and a prioritized list of interventions.

The Cooperative will lead a watershed mapping project led by the full-time agronomists with the assistance of a contracted third-party hydrologist. The mapping will seek to identify current watershed strengths which will be articulated, and current watershed weaknesses, for which interventions will be proposed. Because the national government owns and closely regulates use of ridge-top lands, local ministry officials will need to be brought in as partners in the mapping and restoration process.

  1. Support targeted interventions to reduce erosion and increase soil absorption and retention of water to protect and replentish local aquifer and river systems.

The Cooperative will lead a community-driven initiative to strengthen the upstream ecology and hydrology. Stakeholders will undertake projects to reforest marginalized lands with a focus on tree selection for maximum soil retention/erosion control, grass and earth swales will be built to protect against erosion, as well as the planting, as possible, of erosion-controlling food and animal fodder crops.

  1. Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.


The Cooperative will work towards establishing a community-wide shared commitment to environmental sustainability. Youth-based education campaigns will continue through local school systems. Cooperative and community members will be encouraged to contribute their monthly Umuganda (obligatory monthly day of community service) to the care and restoration of the community’s ecology.

[1] IPCC A1B Scenario


[2] Dunne & Wilmott, 1996

The Fire

On Monday, July 5th at 9:15 pm we received a call about a fire at our building. Fire fighters were on the scene shortly after containing the blaze. It was not a small fire; the crews worked diligently until 3:00 am trying to put it out and used nearly one million gallons of water.

The Thanksgiving team arrived at the building on Tuesday morning to find it still smoldering. The smell of propane, and burnt plastic and charred wood filled the damp coastal air. It was a heartbreaking scene. But the calls were flooding in; our community extended every manner of support from office space to radio time to baked goods and lots of kind words and condolences. The question for us as we surveyed the scene was not whether this was the end of the business but rather, what would our next chapter of business look like?

After assessing the damage, our spirits were lifted when we realized that the core assets were in tact. Our warehouse that stored all of our green coffee had not been damaged and our antique roaster was also spared. We set to work to salvage all existing inventory and resurrect operations out of our warehouse next door to the burned area. By Wednesday afternoon we were getting our first orders out the door, thanks to the very accommodating folks at UPS. And by Friday we received two truckloads of fresh roasted coffee that we had contracted out to three Bay Area roasters who had extended offers of support.

The media was quick to note that the cause of the fire was declared arson. The investigators have been doing a phenomenal job and the case is still under investigation. We are asking that anyone with any information about the cause of the fire call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s tip line at 707-467-9159. We are leaving this in their very capable hands and focusing our energy on moving the business forward.

We have been truly overwhelmed by the community’s response to this event. We cannot begin to give enough thanks to the fire crews, investigators, local businesses and community members who reached out to us and made us feel loved and supported.

While it feels strange to work in the shadow of our burned out former home, there is much to be thankful for. There were a few moments last week when I stopped and took a step back to look around. Our team was working so hard to keep things moving forward, with their sights set on making this business stronger than ever. People were doing things they’d never done before, taking on roles that were new to them, and we were all working together to develop impromptu systems that would keep us afloat. We weren’t talking about it, but our hearts were in the same place and you could feel it.

We’ve been around for nearly 40 years. The road has been long and winding and not always smooth. This was certainly a sobering experience but it showed us how much we are loved and what a strong place we hold in both our local community as well the specialty coffee community.

The rebuilding process is already underway and many of us are excited about new possibilities in a new space. We are filling orders more or less on schedule, though or product offerings at this time are limited. We continue to get asked what people can do to help and at this time there is really only one thing, keep buying our coffee. And be patient with us. If a coffee you know and love isn’t available right now, try something else. You may discover a new coffee to love. Our online retail business has been delayed but this week we will begin to fill orders. In some cases you may get the exact coffee you ordered in a package that looks familiar. In other cases, we may fill your order with a similar coffee in a logoed but unlabeled bag. Again, we really appreciate your patience.

Thank you for your continued support. If you don’t already follow us on Facebook, please become a fan so we can keep you in the loop about rebuilding (and I’ll post an album with recent pictures of our first week post-fire). Here’s the link:

It’s been a long week and it’s a long road ahead but we know this too shall pass…

As the ashes settle and the dust clears, we remain Thanksgiving Coffee Company “Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup.”

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