The village of Hama, 500 kilometres south of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, is known for producing Yirgacheffe Arabica, recognised as one of the best coffee beans in existence. However, despite the high qualityof their coffee, local farmers were still facing a vicious cycle of shrinking production and growing debt.
Why? Well, before we started our project, farmers often would run out of cash before their next coffee crop was ready to sell. This meant they either stopped tending to their coffee plantations, or resorted to borrowing money against the proceeds of their crop of the following year, leaving them in even greater debt. We needed to find a way to improve the farmers’ cash flow and lower costs to improve profits, all while helping them set up responsible farming practices.
The project has been so successful, local farmers have learned to trust the project agronomist and are convinced of the advantages of responsible farming. Local farmers have started to diversify their crops, growing vegetables during spring, and buying animals to fatten. By investing in donkeys and horses, they have also been able to bring their red coffee cherries to the milling station themselves. In addition to cutting out the middlemen, it has also brought the farmer and the processor closer together, which in turn helps control the quality of the cherries brought to the pulping station.
The Nestlé team has also hired an engineer to install the new machines and train local people in their use.The washing equipment has proven so successful that others have been ordered by a cooperatives union, with Nestlé providing technical assistance for their installation.
Project team members zeroed in on the vastly wasteful pulping process in place. Villagers were stripping coffee beans of their pulp using very old-fashioned equipment. This required vast amounts of water, and meant that the stripped pulp – a potentially valuable source of compost - was not only wasted, but also became a source of toxic pollution in the rivers – the very opposite of responsible agriculture.
The team decided to import modern pulping machinery from South America – a first in Ethiopia. While the old traditional machines used up to 50 or 60 litres of water for every kilo of dry parchment coffee, the new ones could do the same job with only two or three litres. Not only that, but with improved techniques, the pulp from the washing station could be turned into useful compost for farms. At the same time, a dedicated full-time agronomist was able to initiate farmers in better, more efficient and more responsible agricultural practices.