Joint learning encourages sustainable coffee sector growth

Last week Solidaridad, in partnership with Hivos, brought together a group of key stakeholders in East Africa’s coffee industry during the sixth annual joint learning platform. The event provided a space for participants to discuss important challenges facing the sustainable production of coffee, including the need to improve food and income security, and the role of women and youth in the sector.

Rachel Wanyoike, Managing Director, Solidaridad East and Central Africa, addresses participants at the start of joint learning platform

A sustainable coffee sector will not only improve coffee farmers’ livelihoods, it’s also instrumental for economic growth and prosperity. 

Said Rachel Wanyoike, Managing Director, Solidaridad Eastern and Central Africa, as she addressed stakeholders during the joint learning platform held in Machakos County, Kenya, 23-24 July 2019.

The joint learning platform is an event organized by Solidaridad’s Food Security through Improved Resilience of Smallholder Coffee Farmers in Ethiopia and Kenya (FOSEK) project, and Hivos, the lead of the Sustainable and Secure Smallholder Systems @ Scale Programme (4S@Scale). The event aims to showcase their sustainable livelihood programmes funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

The interactive two-day event brought together private sector, government, civil society, research institutes and industry actors to tackle key topics on improving food and income security, sustainable practices to address climate change (adaptation and mitigation), the role of women and youth in coffee and the need for partnerships and cohesive policies.

Below we summarise some of the important themes and learnings from the event.

In Ethiopia, enset (Ethiopian banana) intercropped with coffee, serves as a staple food for family members and provides shade to coffee seedlings

Driving sustainable livelihoods by improving food and income security

Low commodity prices and volatility in the global coffee market put unnecessary pressure on producers, specifically smallholder farmers, who contribute 70% of the world’s coffee. 
Through FOSEK, Solidaridad is working with coffee farmers in East Africa to address two key issues: 

  • income security for coffee farmers
  • food security for local coffee communities. 

In terms of income security, FOSEK focuses on increasing productivity and improving the quality of coffee produced. It also links farmers to producer organizations and markets, to improve their income. 
In response to food security issues, farmers receive training on good agricultural practices and diversification into food crops for consumption, or sale to local markets. 
To achieve the project’s income and food security goals, FOSEK interventions are carried out under three business cases in Ethiopia and Kenya:

  1. the establishment of nurseries (coffee and food crops) at a cooperative level to develop a viable business and new commercial activities for farmer organizations
  2. buying, collecting, storing, selling and the distribution of locally produced food crops
  3. the establishment of milk cooling plants at farmer organizations to collect, buy, store, sell and distribute cooled, locally produced milk for local markets. 

Addressing climate change: Adaptation and mitigation

As demand for coffee rises, early adoption of climate-smart agriculture is necessary for producers to remain competitive in the changing environments and global landscape. 
During the joint learning platform, Kabuboni Farmers’ Cooperative Society, a producer organization, highlighted some of the mitigation measures they had developed to ensure the survival of smallholder farmers and, ultimately, the cooperative as a business entity. These measures ranged from developing a climate monitoring tool, modifying the milling process to flood plain mapping and protection of water lagoons. Dr. Joseph Kimemia, a coffee specialist and chair of the Kenya Coffee Platform, emphasized the need to restore aquifers, reclaim riparian land and use composting. These additional measures benefit the farmer by reducing the impact of climate change and cost of production.

Dr. Joseph Kimemia, a coffee expert, presents the benefits of a new high yield coffee variety suited to hot climatic regions

The role of women and youth in coffee

“Moving gender justice from the head to the heart and to the hands,” said Humphrey Lujiri, Hivos’ programme officer for gender. He shared information about Hivos’ interventions focused on meaningful gender empowerment within local communities, and the population at large.

In East Africa’s coffee sector women hold modest levels of ownership and decision making, while young people lack the motivation to engage in coffee production as agriculture is not often viewed as a viable source of income.  

Across 4S@Scale and FOSEK, gender inclusivity and social inclusion are promoted through: 

  • equal representation of women and youth in training initiatives
  • increasing funding opportunities for women and youth
  • advocating for affirmative action and joint decision-making at the household and community level.

Smallholder coffee farmers in Kenya turning over coffee berries during the natural
sun drying process

Regional peer-to-peer learning

The joint learning platform provided an environment in which diverse, cross-border interactions with key stakeholders from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, could flourish. The lessons learned and networks facilitated will enable smallholder farmers, producers and partners to develop collaborative approaches that will ultimately realize the full potential of the East African coffee sector.