By Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder & Director of Operations
I first visited Nicaragua in the early 1990’s. The terrible years of the Iran Contra Civil War were still dominant in the memory of the people, and its effects had taken a huge toll on coffee farmers already enduring a difficult way of life.
At one of the beneficios (where coffee is processed), I watched an assembly line of women sitting on a motley collection of chairs on either side of a moving conveyor belt. Their job was to separate defective beans from those that made the grade for sale and export. It was noisy, hot and dusty, so the women also wore masks that covered their noses and mouths while working.
I left knowing that as soon as I returned home, I would figure out a way to raise money to purchase new ergonomic chairs for those women, and I did, in a gesture of solidarity. But, I knew it was just a drop in the bucket.
Thanksgiving Coffee staff with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
On another small group trip in 2012, we visited the beneficio of Soppexcca, a cooperative composed predominantly of women.
We spent some time “helping” the women transfer coffee beans from the drying patio into sacks that were in process for export. I’m not sure how helpful we were, but it was an enjoyable cultural exchange. These women performed hard physical work on a daily basis. Many of them walked miles to and from work each day if transportation wasn’t available, preparing meals for their families before and after work at the beneficio, as well as doing the rest of the work required in the home, and child rearing responsibilities, as well.
We were invited to sit in on a Board of Directors meeting composed of some of the women we’d worked with, and others from the cooperative who had founded and were operating a small store at the beneficio that sold food and sundries, and was a source of additional income for them.
Women coffee workers of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
While there has been progress made in the recognition and fair and equal compensation for women who work in coffee, there is still a long way to go.
Women we’ve met on buying trips to Central America and Africa live in remote towns and villages without running, potable water or electricity. Homes are rustic, often with a dozen or more family members living in one or two rooms with dirt floors. Many women don’t have access to health care, marry young, and have children soon after. During the “thin months” when coffee income is low, they and their children often go hungry. They perform much of the physical labor required to grow and harvest coffee, but have almost no influence on decisions about how family income is spent. They are typically uneducated, impoverished and disconnected from resources.
Thanksgiving Coffee & ETICO staff meeting with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
Thanksgiving Coffee began to address these issues in two ways.
First, by purchasing only from cooperatives that show a willingness to eradicate this kind of gender inequity. They do this through their actions in support of remedies to eliminate food insecurity, and promoting, providing and ensuring access to training and education for women. These actions will enable women to participate as equal partners in the industry.
The second way we, as a company, have supported women in coffee is through “The Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.” We began this work in 2014, in Nicaragua by adding $0.10 per pound to all coffees we purchase from the Prodecoop and Soppexcca Coopperatives. They have committed to using these funds to improve the lives of women in coffee. The next post will go into detail about what has been accomplished to date.
– Joan Katzeff
Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee and Fatima Ismail, General Manager, SOPPEXCCA, 2013
Deep and immaculately sweet, with notes of ripe cherry and golden raisin.
Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Centuries of production and perfecting methods of preparation have produced brilliant results. This fine Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee is sourced from family-owned farms organized around the Worka Cooperative located in the southern district of Gedeb, Ethiopia. The Worka zone encompasses the highest altitude coffee cultivation area in the entire country of Ethiopia, resulting in a stunningly unique flavor profile.
The Worka Cooperative was established in 2005 and currently has approximately 300 members. In 2005, the cooperative joined the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU) to support a sustainable coffee supply from cooperatives in the Gedeo ethnic region of Ethiopia.
Heavy, earthy body, with layers of cedar and butterscotch.
Small family farms blanket the mountains of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island. Under the dense tropical forests of the island’s northern Gayo Mountains, the 1,329 members of Koperasi Permata Gayo produce one of Indonesia’s finest and most sought after coffees.
The cooperative formed in 2005, following a peace accord that ended a decade-long civil war and a devastating earthquake that heavily damaged the farmers’ homes and warehouses. Growing in membership year by year, Koperasi Permata Gayo represents the farmers’ hope for a peaceful future, prosperity, and careful stewardship of the natural environment.
Like all the finest Indonesian coffees, Permata Gayo is produced using the distinct wet-hulled process that yields a pungent earthy flavor enlivened by sweet notes of butterscotch, cinnamon, and clove.
Byron Corrales is a visionary farmer, campesino leader, and pioneer in the application of biodynamic farming practices to coffee production. Twice he’s won top honors for this magical coffee: Maracaturra, a special variety found only on his small family farm in Nicaragua.
Last year, Byron began processing a small amount of this special coffee using the natural process: sun-drying the coffee cherries to develop a rich, fruity flavor notes. This coffee received a rating of 94 points from CoffeeReview.com!
The coffee is a unique hybrid of the heirloom varietals Maragoype and Caturra (Bourbon). It was developed and is grown exclusively by Byron Corrales for Thanksgiving Coffee Company. It is a truly exceptional coffee that’s more akin to its cousins in the highlands of East Africa than its neighbors in Central America.
Byron’s Maracaturra Natural
Lush, mellow and jammy, with a suggestion of blueberry.
Last month, the good folks at Operation Groundswell let us know about the fantastic trips they lead to Central America to reconnect people with where their food comes from. Their trips are inspiring, educational and adventurous, and often end up in coffee country…so we thought you’d like to hear about them. Enjoy!
-The team at Thanksgiving Coffee Co.
From Seed to Shelf, Ethical Consumerism From The Ground Up
– Wendell Berry, American novelist, activist, cultural critic, and farmer
We seem to have forgotten that…
At least, I had forgotten that until I left my corporate job and my NYC apartment in 2011 to begin a three-year journey around Latin America and Australia. Working on a winery in Mendoza, Argentina during its harvest taught me the importance of a farmer’s vigilance and dedication – as well as how fickle a crop can be. WWOOFing on an organic farm in Byron Bay, Australia, brought out my inner child as I delighted in pulling carrots, radishes and peanuts out of the ground.
Volunteering at a coffee cooperative in Guatemala instilled in me the importance of fair wages and food justice. This was the same girl who had grown up with a plethora of food in the pantry, always answering the slightest hunger rumble with a more-than sufficient meal without giving a second thought to how that food got there.
But now I know how food gets to us. I know that a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee.
I know that every ingredient has its own journey, and that frankly, not all journeys are created equal. Local or industrial; organic or conventional; commodity crop or Fair Trade, slow food or fast food. These words were not just created by marketers; they have a real impact on the way we eat. That’s why I teamed up with Operation Groundswell to lead From Seed to Shelf: Ethical Consumerism from the Ground Up in Guatemala this fall.
From Seed to Shelf is a nine-day exploration of where our food, and coffee, comes from and what it goes through before hitting the shelves of our local grocery store.
We’ll go into the jungle to taste raw cacao straight out of the pod. We’ll farm alongside coffee farmers while hearing about their daily struggle to live off the world’s second-most traded commodity. We will peel back the curtain of industrial agriculture and see the challenges our food producers face every day. We will research issues such as food justice, land distribution, and malnutrition in real time and with real people who face these issues every day, every week, every year.
Guatemala’s unique political and economic landscape will serve as the setting for our adventure. We will get our hands dirty working on a community-initiated project, stretch our legs as we ascend an active volcano, and cleanse our minds in the beautiful hot springs of Fuentes Georginas.
We created this program knowing full well that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” But ignorance is not bliss; come to Guatemala this fall and take a step towards closing our food knowledge gap.
Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization committed to providing authentic, ethical, and affordable travel opportunities to people all over the world. For seven years, OG has facilitated backpacking and service-learning programs to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America carrying out small scale development projects and building a community of travelers that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.
For more information on the Seed to Shelf Program, click here.
Our partners at Ético: The Ethical Trading Company, along with the British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.
Traditionally, the price for commodity products (like coffee) include only direct input and labor costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work, which is done mainly by women. This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production – one that should be valued and remunerated.
The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua. Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labor in sesame production. Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labor (eg. cooking food for field laborers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labor input in sesame.
The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives. The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labor organization, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.
Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, states, “when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change….with such good collaborators, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade.” Hoskyns credits cooperative organizations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.
At Thanksgiving Coffee, we’re proud to partner with Ético to implement projects at origin.
We happy to announce that our partners at the Peace Kawomera Cooperative have just received notice that their climate change adaptation project has been approved for funding by the Dutch NGO Progreso! This exciting news comes on the heels of three years of hard work developing a community-based plan to protect coffee production, and ensure sustainable livelihoods through the diversification of income, restoration of the local ecosystem, and increasing levels of food security. With deep gratitude for the support of Progreso, the leadership of Peace Kawomera, and the support from our loyal customers, Thanksgiving Coffee would like to raise a toast to what it means to live in a world where we are all connected, and where we invest in and enjoy the rewards of shared responsibility and mutual benefit.
Please read below for a description of the project, written by Peace Kawomera’s Chief Agronomist John Bosco Birenge.
Peace Kawomera is a coffee farmer cooperative located on one of the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda, near the city of Mbale. It is farmer owned and run by the management staff and Board of Directors. It started in 2004 dealing mainly in coffee production while selling it to their sole buyer in the USA Thanksgiving Coffee Company.
Since then, coffee production has been increasing alongside farmgate prices to cooperative members. The cooperative has begun to diversify to other cash crops like vanilla and cocoa, all of which grow as intercrops within the main coffee plantings. The farmers are now grouped into 25-member Farmer Field Groups, totaling 63 farmer groups in all.
“We thank you for purchasing our coffee. The price you pay enables us to send our children to school.” — Mrs. Florence Namaja Wabire.
Though farmers have been growing these crops, they seemed not to realize the negative effects of their other activities on the environment. In 2010 coffee production plummeted, as did food production. There is also growing awareness of the negative impacts of climate change which include increasingly unpredictable differentiation between wet and dry season, increasingly intense rains and flooding, longer and prolonged dry periods, as well as subsequent changes in the local ecosystem. Additionally, the is a growing awareness of the more localized negative impacts caused by farmers’ activities such as:
Deforestation for cooking/charcoal production
Brick making and firing
Poor disposal of wastes i.e. in water streams and bodies.
The above few mentioned activities have affected not only cash crop production but also have a huge and significant negative impact on food crops. Specifically these activities have lead to deterioration in soil fertility, and have affected water quality in the area’s watershed.
It is expected that the impacts of climate change will continue to disrupt local weather patterns, both extending dry periods and intensifying wet periods. The impact of these erratic changes in weather will make it difficult for farmers to plan and manage their farms, and it will increase the likelihood of losses due to drought, flooding and landslides, and disruptions in the normal crop cycle of coffee.
Farmers Eias Hasalube and Hakim Aziz beneath the canopy of Mr. Aziz's restored coffee farm.
Given the above, the farmers are searching for strategies they can employ to adapt to these changes without sacrificing their livelihoods. This is happening at the time when farmers are anxious to reap a lot out of their coffee due to its regaining reputation on the international scene, increasing market price and increasing differential and quality premium through the specialty coffee market and the good price from US-based Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a buyer since 2004.
The above-mentioned activities of environmental degradation are mainly driven by economic need arising from high rates of unemployment locally. Therefore, this project seeks a two-pronged strategy to increase the value and production of shade grown coffee, and interventions to fortify the ecosystem against the impacts of shifting weather by planting valuable grasses in swale formation, increasing the intercropping of strategically important shade trees in coffee plantations, and reforestation of hill tops and ridges to create a conducive micro climate for coffee. This fortified ecosystem will be better able to protect coffee from severe rains because of increased canopy cover, and will be able to reduce erosion by controlling runoff. Additionally, through the selection of appropriate shade trees, the project will increase the production of high-mulching organic matter which will improve soil quality, a critical step towards improved coffee quality and production, as well creating habitat for the biological control agents here referred to as natural enemies of the pests.
Agro forestry provides additional sources of income especially from sales of fruits from the planted trees, sale of harvested grasses from swales, sale of firewood and of seedlings from the nurseries to other communities.
Agronomist and project leader JB Birenge demonstrates simple construction of living barriers used to control erosion.
This will also reduce the gap of unemployment and improve on food security for the area’s farmers by increasing the diversity of foods immediately available to farming families. Protecting and restoring the environment will reduce the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity, and improve on ecological systems which are all aimed at improving coffee production and food security.
The project will be built around a package of incentives designed to facilitate and inspire quick uptake in action by individual farmers. The methodology will be driven by the established network and practice of the Farmer Field Schools. Led by the project manager, a team will create local seedling nurseries and begin the process of educating individual farmers through the FFS groups. After an 6 month period, the leading farmer in each FFS group (determined by objective pre-established criteria around tree planting, swale construction, soil and water conservation) will be given a female goat. These goats produce manure which is high in nitrogen which can be incorporated back into the fields for improved soil fertility. After an additional 6 months the next leading farmer in each FFS Group will be rewarded a goat based upon the established criteria. These goats will be expected to reproduce so as time goes on, the kids will be given out to other members who come second, i.e. responsibility will be upon farmers to know that if such a farmer`s goat kids, the offspring will be expected to be designated by the project to the next recipient farmer. This process of review and award will be conducted 4 times (6, 12, 18, and 24 months. It is estimated that the project will need to purchase 252 female goats (63 FFS Groupsx4 cycles) to get the inventive program off the ground and to a point of self-sustainability.
Nathan Watadena points to land that is targeted for reforestation and restoration.
PROBLEM STATEMENT AND GOALS
Peace Kawomera’s livelihood is coffee produced on the slopes of Mt. Elgon between 1300 – 1700 meters above sea level. They are farmers whose staple foods are cereal crops but also keep some livestock they have diversified to vanilla and of recent though faint cocoa plants. But in amidst all these, farmers have realized the effects of climate change and how it is affecting their first crop which is coffee.
A survey conducted with 12 farmer groups noted that rains come late, and are now more erratic where by the rainy and dry seasons are harsher than ever, this has made it difficult for them to cope with the increased un employment rate which has led to youths making mud bricks for money, stone quarrying, cutting trees for timber and firewood to burn bricks all these leaving coffee plants in the bare environment. Therefore, this project must protect the farmer’s livelihood. This will ensure sustainability of coffee production, food security and better understanding of the ecosystems that work hand in hand.
1 Ensure long term sustainability of coffee farming with focus on quality production.
2 Improve biodiversity
3 Improve on food security.
4 Improve on water quality (water sheds).
5 Improve on soil quality.
6 To create a sense of responsibility towards environment.
7 Educate farmers on positive and negative impact of various economic activities
Diversify economic activity and income generation through promotion of environmentally preferable activities
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.
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.