East Africa: Fairtrade increase market access for thousands of coffee producers

Coffee production in East and Central Africa by smallholders is known for its high quality and value in specialty markets. However, for these small-scale producers to take full advantage of the demand of the Fairtrade market, they need more support. Coffee production in Ethiopia is critical for the country’s economy with about 25 percent of the population depending on the sector for their livelihood.

Solidaridad together with the Yirgachefe Coffee Farmers’ Cooperatives Union (YCFCU) in the western district of Ethiopia designed a project that supports primary cooperatives in achieving sustainable and fair access to global markets. Irish Aid is the main donor of this project, supporting Solidaridad through the Irish Fair Trade Network.

In a joint effort Solidaridad and the YCFCU have been leading initiatives to assist small-scale coffee farmers to take full advantage of the demand for the Fairtrade market. The project has six primary cooperatives with 4 258 small-scale farmers and 12 wet mills under YCFCU, which received training on Good Agriculture Processing and Management Practices to increase productivity and improve the quality of coffee.

Karugu Macharia, Solidaridad Director for East and Central Africa, says in order to make the farmers competitive they need more support and investment in training to move from subsistence to commercial farming.

Project objectives and activities

The intervention of Solidaridad aims to support the primary cooperatives in achieving sustainable and fair access to markets through capacity-building in practical training, good governance, bookkeeping, quality management, better coffee grading and sorting.

As part of the project objectives training is provided to village youth on production, processing and Internal Control System (ICS) management for sustainability of coffee production and to ensure continuous supply of Fairtrade certified coffee.

The project further aims to provide small-scale farmers with the opportunity to improve their livelihoods through:

  • Coffee quality improvement by strengthening the technical skills of small-scale producers,
  • Introduction to traceability and transparency among producers and traders and get better access of Fairtrade certified coffee,
  • Enhance the capacity of small-scale farmers and introduce better cultivation methods and processing techniques to improve the productivity and diversification of farms.

Farmers and extension workers are trained on Occupational Health and Safety Standards (OHSS) to assist others and also trained on compost preparation at model farms. The cooperative’s management were also trained on cooperative organization, business planning, financial management, coffee or farm diversification and marketing. As a result through Fairtrade certification, they obtained market linkage and better terms of trade.

The project serves as a model for other member cooperatives in Ethiopia, which is Africa’s top coffee producer, to develop an interest in adopting sustainable standards and join the Fairtrade market.

Results and benefits of the project

Takele Mammo, General Manager of YCFCU, says some of the positive results of the quality coffee have been elation among consumers and increased income for the producers.

Furthermore, three out of the six primary cooperatives that Solidaridad supported, had an average productivity increase of 695 kg per hectare in to 834 kg per hectare in a period of three years. In the same period a total of 4, 739.4 tons of coffee have been certified and exported as Fairtrade by YCFCU resulting in more than $ 1 million of certified coffee sales.

The implementation and adoption of Fairtrade by YCFCU has increased the value of sales and enabled producers to access markets, secure more value for their products and build sustainable livelihoods.