A new way to connect with your coffee farmer!

By Mischa Hedges, Director of Communications

At Thanksgiving Coffee Company, we’re always talking about how to connect our coffee community. We strive to create a space for dialogue between coffee drinkers and coffee farmers – space that allows for gratitude, appreciation and knowledge about coffee to be shared. With social media and increased global connectivity, it’s becoming much easier than it used to be to do that. For instance, check out this new feature on our website:

Connecting coffee drinkers with coffee farmers

Farmer FeedbackIf you’ve enjoyed one of our single origin coffees recently, you can visit our “Farmers” page and write a message to the coffee farmer or cooperative who grew it. 

Traveling to your coffee’s country of origin and meeting your coffee farmer in person is the richest way to connect, but that’s not an option for most people. We’re hoping this new feature on our website will enable you to deepen your relationship with your coffee.

Some of the farmers and cooperatives we partner with are Facebook users, and can respond directly to your messages! In other cases, we’ll gather and send your messages to the farmers and cooperatives we work with so they can see your appreciation.

Let us know what you think of this new feature…

Dukunda Kawa—Climate Change Adaptation

Project Need

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.

Dukunda Kawa—Bikes to Rwanda

Thank you to all of our supporters!

In January, Thanksgiving Coffee Company partnered with the non-profit organization Bikes to Rwanda to raise funds to help bring hundreds of “coffee bikes” to the cooperative that produces our Rwandan coffee. With overwhelming support from our customers, both here in Mendocino and across the country, we raised over $2,500 to construct a bike shop for the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in less than two weeks! A sincere thank you to all who supported this project.

Dukunda Kawa—Early History and Sustainable Development

“A journey to Africa has been a far away dream; seeing the mountain gorillas quite unimaginable. Both opportunities presented themselves and moved me profoundly. Using coffee from Rwanda to raise funds for mountain gorilla preservation and to improve the quality of life for the people of Rwanda has become my highest priority.”

Joan Katzeff first visited Rwanda in 2003 as a guest of the United States Aid for International Development (USAID). There, along with a handful of coffee industry partners, Thanksgiving Coffee Company began a close partnership with the emerging Rwandan cooperative movement and the revival of Rwanda’s coffee industry. During that visit, Joan met with the Rwandan office of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGI) and forged a close connection with this remarkable organization that works to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas.

The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative Story

“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.”

Stretching across a meandering chain of ridges and hills near the town of Musasa, in northern Rwanda, the 2,000+ members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative represent a new beginning for Rwanda and its hopes for the future.

Working on plots of land so small that farmers often reference their farm size by the number of trees rather than the number of acres, a community recovering from the scars of a recent genocide is laying the foundation for peace and a prosperous future.

Video Feature: 2012 Sustainability Award

We’re honored that our work in Rwanda is being recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association of America with the 2012 Sustainability Award. We’re also excited about the power of this story, and creating projects like it with every single farm and cooperative we call a partner. The future of specialty coffee hangs in the balance; climate change poses very real and serious threats. We also have the ability, through our relationship-based trading model, to invest, collaborate, support, and ultimately, protect the future of coffee for us and for the farmers who grow it.

2012 Sustainability Award

This article is written by Alexandra Katona-Carrol and appears in the April issue of Chronicle, the SCAA’s monthly magazine. 

This year, the SCAA’s Sustainability Council is proud to showcase the 2012 Sustainability Award project winner, Responding to Climate Change: Building Community-Based Reliance. The project focuses on sustaining the production of high quality coffee in the face of climate change. It pilots a set of proactive interventions that faces the reality that some degree of climate change is inevitable, disruption of supply is likely, decreases in quality are expected and on-the-ground defenses need to be built to protect specialty coffee production.

The project is unique in that it was developed in a collaborative effort between Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a U.S.-based roaster, and the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a long-time supplier, with the specific goal of ensuring the future viability of this successful trading relationship. The project is funded by PROGRESO, a Dutch NGO, and administered by Rwandan Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a Rwandan NGO. The collective goal is to establish a pilot project that would allow for refinement of methodology, metrics and funding strategies, which will then be replicated throughout our supply chain, and beyond.

The introduction of practices that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the 1,818 farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are a central goal. Specifically, the actions of the project create targeted defenses against projected increases in temperature, pests, irregularity in rain and drought, shortened ripening and quality loss, and the resulting loss of specialty coffee. As such, the project deploys a set of widely recognized best practices around shade intercropping, erosion control, and watershed conservation, in response to site-specific climate change risk assessments, thereby creating targeted defenses against these new threats to production.

The project’s strategy revolves around the goal of enhancing resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to withstand extremes in weather without diminishing its productive capacity. To develop this resilience, the project targets a set of interventions designed to protect topsoil by preventing erosion, decrease farm temperature by developing shade canopy, increase soil fertility by introducing nutrient-fixing trees and leaf litter, and reduce the risk of drought by increasing aquifer absorption. Broadly put, it seeks to increase the value of ecosystem services by increasing the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of beneficial components of the ecosystem.

To date, the project has achieved a return of one tree for every 13 cents ($23,220 / 175,542 trees). This is a high return on investment in reforestation projects and is made possible by the demand-driven methodology of the project. This return is also exceptionally secure: many reforestation efforts are successful at planting trees, but because they have been subsidized, most trees end up as firewood or fences long before they begin to offer ecosystem services. Because of the project’s focus on education, tree planting and ecological restoration in this project is driven by farmer demand for the long-term services provided by trees. The project was developed in response to concerns from the Cooperative’s members around the impact of climate change. Similar concerns are shared by farmers around the world and can serve as the starting point for replication of this project, in particular, its methodology.

Thanksgiving Coffee Company is also in the process of developing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, to finance similar projects throughout our supply chain. The recognition garnered by this award will strengthen the fundraising efforts of the new organization and create up to eleven additional climate change adaptation projects throughout our supply chain. Though this project will focus directly on Thanksgiving Coffee’s supply chain, the goal is to help articulate strategies that can be employed by other companies in their own supply chains. It is important to note that the trading relationships typically require less than 20% of a Cooperative’s production, so there is a large quantity of coffee available to other industry partners that will benefit from these works.

The project’s strategy integrates a demand-driven methodology that creates a set of incentives to catalyze a “race to the top” whereby farmers are seeking to implement the identified best practices. The ultimate goal is to secure the supply of great coffee for years to come, and to prove that though climate change threatens to destroy the supply of our industry’s coffee, we can invest in long-term solutions that defend farmers, their farms, and their production for years to come.

Alexandra Katona-Carroll has been in the specialty coffee industry for over five years. She has worked for SCAA and works part-time as the programs manager at CQI. She is the founder of a new company, Sensaay, which is dedicated to the promotion of specialty coffee, craft beer and fine tea.

Fair Trade & Climate Change

Depending on who you ask, one of the most important international meetings of the year is taking place in Durban, South Africa. COP 17 as it’s known, short for the “Conference of the Parties” is a gathering of signatories of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, informally known as the “Earth Summit”. Tucked away in all of that terminology is the fact that this is the place where the world gets together to talk about what it’s going to do about climate change. And, one hopes, take action.

Again, depending on who you ask, there is a lot to hope for from this conference, or there is little hope that much will come out of it. Signaling a shift away from international commitment, last week Canada announced that it would withdraw its membership from the Kyoto Protocol, a cornerstone of global climate policy, albeit a failed effort. Canada’s move sends a clear signal that Kyoto and its emission reduction targets is failed. Before we get too critical of Canada we should remind ourselves that the United States never even signed on to Kyoto in the first place.

Leaders of faith, including the Pope and Archibishiop Desmond Tutu are speaking clearly about the need for dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and develop adaptation strategies that give farmers in the third world a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, developing countries are moving forward in an effort to reduce emissions—in fact, according to a recent study conducted by Oxfam International, they are set to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at a much greater rate than the wealthy countries of the world.

But besides the diplomatic wrangling and multilateral agreements, what does COP17 mean for farmers?

Recently, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) published a letter titled “Adaptation Measures Must Work for Farmers” which highlights the need for a substantial and coordinated approach to funding adaptation. Adaptation in this context means moving beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby future increases in global temperature. Here, adaptation refers to the need to support farmers in the face of climate change, and to develop holistic solutions that will allow them to buffer themselves and their farms from changing weather that threatens their livelihoods.

In our own work, we’ve launched a pilot project with our partners at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in an effort to define best practices that will help keep farmers on their farms, producing great coffee, for generations.

For more on this topic, see the link below for a great collection of voices from the grassroots. Stay tuned for more news as COP17 progresses as wraps up.

 Fair Trade in Africa





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

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