The coffee supply chain – from berry to espresso
Rabobank Foundation and coffee
In Tanzania, many small coffee farmers live in poverty. Their productivity is low, mainly because they don't have the money or knowledge to invest in improving their production techniques. To support small coffee farmers in Tanzania's North, the Rabobank Foundation has joined forces with the NMB Foundation and the Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS). The joint efforts focus on knowledge transfer and organising farmers into solidarity groups and cooperatives.
Small farmers doing the heavy work
In Tanzania, it's some 450,000 small coffee farmers who together account for 95% of the country's total coffee production. But this big majority still has a weak position in the supply chain, because of lack of cooperative structures and good production techniques. Rabobank supports these farmers through the Rabobank Foundation.
Every plant starts with a seed. For the coffee plant, the seed is a 'ripe' coffee bean. After planting, it takes about three years for a coffee bush to mature. But it will still be another two years before the bush reaches its full productivity.
Farmers in the North of Tanzania grow primarily Arabica coffee. The leaves of the Arabica coffee plant stay green all year round. As with wine, its signature flavour is the result of a unique interplay between soil, altitude and climate.
One berry at a time
The red coffee berries are plucked between May and August. The small farmers do this by hand, one berry at a time. They remove the beans from the berries, compost the pulp and then dry the beans in the sun. Coffee farmers carry 50kg sacks full of dried coffee on bicycles and mopeds to the cooperative, where it is weighed and tested to determine its market value.
Plants well tended
Only the truly ripe berries produce the highest quality of coffee bean. A properly tended coffee bush, given sufficient shade and fertilizer, can produce up to 15 kg of berries a year for 30 years.
Learning about improvements
With Rabobank's support, the cooperatives are giving their farmers training in the skills they need in agronomics and business. At the farmer field school, groups of farmers learn about nutrition, pruning, shade trees, preventing and fighting plant diseases, and coffee harvesting techniques. Rabobank gives the farmers pointers about setting up a savings plan to make them less dependent on credit providers. The group can then use their own savings to invest in new coffee bushes, fertiliser and pest control.
Nice cup of joe
The green coffee beans are shipped in huge containers to coffee roasters all over the world. These companies roast, cool and blend the beans to achieve all manner of different coffee varieties. And coffee is also for sale on the local market in Tanzania, where coffee was long seen as a luxury item. But today, more and more coffee shops are springing up around Arusha all the time. This offers Tanzania's people the opportunity to also enjoy their world-famous coffee.
Do the math
For the smallholders in the Arusha region, one coffee bush will produce an average of 5 kg of coffee berries per year. After processing, this means about 1 kg of beans. Coffee prices fluctuate dramatically. In a bad year (like 2013), a farmer with 300 coffee bushes will end up earning about EUR 300 for his entire harvest.