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Down the rabbit hole: Anne organizes a smallholder training program

A few weeks back Moyee’s supply chain chief headed to Ethiopia to help organize and host Moyee’s very first farmer’s training program. No stranger to Ethiopia’s coffee regions, she thought she knew what she was getting into, but she quickly fell through the rabbit hole. We glimpse into her notebook.

Thinking about a vocational training program, my first thoughts were of a hotel conference room. You know, a big beamer, a few people manning the nametags box, 2 hours earlier, sitting outside the door greeting guests as they arrive. For our Call the Farmer training program we were going to have none of that. But how do you prepare a 2-day seminar for 102 smallholders not used to following seminars?

A day before the program I arrived in the Bonga region with Kilil, Moyee’s outgrower manager and trainer. Kilil had prepared a beautiful and professional program with lots of interesting handouts for the farmers. But in a country like Ethiopia and a region like Bonga it’s hard to nail down all the practicalities in advance. Things here change by the minute. So we arrived a day early to firm up our plans.

Kilil teaching
Kilil teaching

In Ethiopia, that means you start your day by shaking hands with important local officials and explain the nature of the Call the Farmer program. In a single day we visited 6 different towns, stopping by all the important venues like the Agricultural Office and the Municipality. We talked coffee, chatted about Moyee, informed them of our close collaboration with the local cooperative farm Tega & Tula, etcetera. A few of the towns indicated they could provide trainers as well, a pleasant surprise. They were welcomed additions to our local knowledge pool.

Next we needed a location to host the training program. Kilil drove by a local community school where the kids, spotting our four-wheel drive, formed a circle around our truck. Kilil asked one of them to call their headmaster. Fifteen minutes later we had a venue (one of the classrooms) plus coffee, tea and lunch.

Trainers check. Venue check. Notoriously difficult to make plans from afar, when you’re able to meet face-to-face Ethiopia is the easiest place to do business in the world.

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So we were ready, or so I thought. We had made plans for 100 outgrower farmers, but how did I actually know all 100 would show up. Kilil was relaxed, told me not to worry. They were all aware of the time and date. As for the location, word in small towns travel fast, especially with the communication talents of our local friends. And the ones who had forgotten? Well, Kilil said, they’d hear the noise made by all the others. In a village it’s hard to lose track of 100 farmers.

With a few hours to spare, all I had to do was wait, relax and wait for everyone to show up. Which is exactly what I did. Read more here.

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Coffee Smart: A 5-Step Guide to DIY Composting

The typical smallholder coffee grower in Ethiopia cares for some 700 coffee trees, each one dotted with beautiful red cherries. Beautiful as they are, the sad fact is 700 trees are not enough to feed a smallholder and his family. We created our Call the Farmer program to help approximately 100 farmers farmer better, earn more and live better. Perfecting the art of self-made compost is one of the easiest ways smallholders can increase their productivity – and fast.

During our Call the Farmer training program we taught 102 farmeIMG_8541 LOWrs and their families how to create the perfect compost. What’s so perfect about it? It’s a mixture of 100% organic materials that provide coffee trees all the necessary ‘vitamins’ they need to grow strong and healthy – namely, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. It’s not hard. In fact, the recipe received such a warm welcome that we decided to post it right here, for you. Here’s our DIY guide to composting for all you wanna-be coffee farmers.

 

Step 1: Gather organic stuffIMG_8428 LOW

Take a short stroll on your plot of land, which is probably half a hectare small. So it’s going to be a short walk, make the most of it by collecting the following materials on your way.

-Maize straw, leftover from the last harvest

-Leaves from your banana palm (or IMG_8402 LOWone of your other fruit trees)

-Ash from your wooden stove or last night’s fire

-Animal dung from the cow or two you own

-A bit of top soil, but don’t scoop deeper than the top 10cm

 

 

 

 

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Step 2: Fence out an area

Fence in a small piece of land with some wood. An area of 3 meters x 2 meters x 1.5 meters high should do the trick. Easy, right? Uh, not really. But you’ll figure it out.

-Strips a few branches from a tree and place one every 30cm or so

-Use lianes (100% organic rope) to hold the branches together

-When you’re done, line the sides with banana leaves and maize straw to keep the compost from sneaking out between the branches

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Step 3: Layer your compost pile

From here on out it’s pretty easy. Filling your compost pile is a question of creating layers. Important to note is that you should water to each layer before adding the next.

-Create a floor of branches to keep your compost from touching the groundIMG_8459 LOW

-Add a 10c of green cut leaves. That’s your nitrogen.

-Create a layer of animal dung (two buckets is suffice). The bacteria in the dung will kick start the decomposition

-The next layer is last night’s fire ash. This is good for your potassium.

-Finally, add 2cm of topsoil for phosphorus.

 

Step 4: Add even more layers

Haha, you thought you were done, didn’t you? Hardly. This is just the start. You should repeat the process at least four times, creating a compost thick enough to cover your half-hectare of land.

 

Step 5: Wait three months

Three months is a long time to be patient, but what choice do you have? None. Mother Nature needs time to do her IMG_8477 LOWwork. After three months you’ll have a beautiful pile of compost big enough to fertilize your 700 trees. Their effect will be immediate in agricultural terms. Within a year and a half your branches will be crowded with lush queen coffee beans, bigger and healthier than you could have imagined. And because your beans are awesome, they’ll command a higher price. And this all because you spent a morning making your own DIY compost. Congrats, man. Enjoy!

 

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Meet our smallholder: Zerihun

The very short stories of the smallholder farmers growing your premium FairChain beans. Meet Zerihun.

Name: Zerihun Zewdie
Location:  Tega
Size of property: 1,5 hectares
Remarks: son of Mr. Zewde Shimbi

Zerihun is one of our smallholders in Tega, Ethiopia. He is 33 years old, married with one 1 small child. He owns 1,5 hectares of land. He grows forest-shaded coffee on 1 hectare and ‘garden’ coffee on the remaining half hectare. His small piece of land was a gift from his father, also a coffee grower, so he could kickstart his own coffee farm. We followed Zerihun around during the harvest period and watched him spend much of his time weeding and removing parasite vegetation from his coffee plants.

Moyee purchased 87 kilograms of Zerihun’s 2016 harvest. Next year we expect to buy more.

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Back 2 School: 105 Smallholders Embrace FairChain Training

This weekend Moyee officially kicked off our ‘Call the Farmer’ smallholder training program at Tega & Tula, our partner plantation in Ethiopia. The program was created specifically for a select group of FairChain smallholders in Kaffa. Using knowledge and expertise from leading scientific minds at Wageningen University (Holland) and Jimma University (Ethiopia), the program offers these smallholders organizational and agricultural training based on best practices with the aim of helping them increase their productivity and ultimately their earnings.

Everything we’ve written in this blog up to now has been in preparation for this first training session. Which is to say, as of today our Call the Farmer program is very much for real.

Day 1: pruning and organic composting

We expected 100, but 105 showed up, all eagerly filing into two very crowded rooms at a cozy community school in Kaffa. Standing in front of the class were Kilil, Abraham and Asheber. After an introduction by Kilil, an expert on smallholder associations, agronomist Abraham walked them through the key steps required for increasing productivity, starting with pruning.

When setting up this training program, our aim was very clear: we wanted to offer hyper-practical tips that could help them increase both their yields and revenue immediately. Similarly, we didn’t want to overwhelm them with science they might not understand. Instead, we would teach them science through storytelling.

Admittedly, the light in the classroom was quite dismal, but despite this the farmers enthusiastically made notes in their books and asked lots of questions. Many pledged they would test the new pruning methods the next morning.

In the early afternoon Asheber took over. An experienced trainer from a neighboring village, Asheber taught the famers how make their own compost using organic materials from their farms.

The day ended with a general quiz. Every correct answer was greeted with raucous clapping and enthusiasm. The farmers left the classroom eager to put theory into practice.

 

Day 2: putting theory into practice

The next day all 100 (excuse us, 105) farmers convened at our partner farm Tega & Tula. It was a beautiful morning and all the coffee plants were covered with white flowers. Abraham stepped forward to demonstrate the pruning. The key takeout for the farmers appeared before the pruning even began when Abraham swabbed the blade of his machete with alcohol. A simple but effective safeguard that prevents the spread of disease from tree to tree.

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A few hours later, under Asheber’s guidance, the farmers were roaming the Tega & Tula plantation in search of key ingredients to make the perfect (organic) compost. The farmers sought banana leaves, hay, ash, dirt, animal dung and water. It was fascinating to watch how each farmer went about their search, eagerly heading in different directions as per their usual routines. Women disappeared into the forest to collect leaves and water, men set about cutting branches. In just under an hour we managed to build a composting area surrounded by a fence (yes, they build the fence). Layer by layer they filled the compost ‘garden’ with Asheber’s ingredients. This way of composting was new to most of the farmers. One of them, Tesfaye, was fascinated and said he would try this new ‘recipe’ the next day.

(In a later blog post we’ll reveal Asheber’s DIY Composting tips. We promise.)

Elections & Diplomas

With the compost pile complete, our first Call the Farmer training program came to an end. The farmers drank soft drinks and, with Kilil’s help, elected a Board of Representatives who would speak and negotiate on behalf of the 105 farmers present. The election went smoothly and 7 candidates happily joined the Board.

Each participating farmer returned home with a well-deserved Certificate to hang above their bed and show their families. We hope it will be the first of many diplomas. Because this training was only the first of a long and intensive program we hope will revolutionize the FairChain farming industry – financially, socially and sustainably!

Stay tuned for more.

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Living Income for Dummies: Part I

This is the first of a series of posts about Living Income. The name ‘Living Income’ may sound boring, but it’s really the basis of what every ambitious social entrepreneur/company is looking to boost when they touch ground in developing countries. For a company like Moyee then (which checks all those boxes), boosting Living Income is one of our Holy Grails. What is the fairest price we can pay our farmers, for example? What is the fairest income we can offer an Ethiopian coffee farmer and his family? For answers we sat down with Jeroen Smits, associate professor at Nijmegen University and the Director of the Database Developing World (DDW).

 

Q: You have your own International Wealth Index (IWI) to measure the wealth of people in developing countries. How important is the IWI?

A: First, such an index makes it easy to follow and compare data from different countries over a long period of time. That’s important. Another big advantage is that the IWI doesn’t focus on income, which probably sounds strange when you’re writing a piece about Living Income. Think of it this way: what is more insightful when monitoring a farmers’ wealth? Focusing entirely on the few dollars he earns with his coffee and other crops? Which, as Moyee has transparently pointed out, might end up being spent on honey wine? Or is it smarter to look at his assets, such as the house he lives in. Does he own a bicycle, does he have electricity and water?

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Indosha (40) – farmer

Q: In other words, money is just a means not an end goal.

A: An international poverty line has been established, of course. But my question is what do we know about the farmer when they earn two dollars a day? Not much, right? First, 2 dollars a day in Ethiopia is not the same as 2 dollars in Switzerland. Why should 2 dollars be the minimum in Ethiopia and not, say 1 dollar or 5? It completely depends on the cost of food, housing, education, etc.

 

Q: But there has to be a minimum wage, right?

A: In Ethiopia for example, for government employees there is a minimum wage, with an emphasis on ‘minimum’. But when it comes to independent entrepreneurs, which is what farmers are, wage levels hardly apply to them. For these people, for example, a mobile phone is essential. It’s probably the most coveted item around the world. Knowing whether a farmer owns one is a valuable piece of information. That’s why it scores high on our IWI Index. The same can be said for items like furniture and flooring material.

 

Q: You are helping us here at Moyee monitor the Living Income of our Ethiopian partners. Can you explain how that works.

A: All the data we have culled from surveys will be entered into our database. This information gives Moyee the opportunity to benchmark your own farmers and see how they score against the average of other farmers working in rural Ethiopia. And not only in Ethiopia, but with every developing country across the planet.

 

Q: We enter our data and a score rolls out?

A: Correct.

 

We entered the data we had gained from 2015 interviews and our farmers score 7/100, which is slightly below the national average for Ethiopia. We’ll be honest, 7 is very low. Farmers in Kenya, for example, often score more than 20/100. Farmers in China ring in at 70/100. The thing is, we already know this. Coffee farmers like those in Ethiopia are at the absolute bottom of the economic pyramid. The only caveat to this is: they farm extremely fertile soil which means they can easily grow their own food, meaning coffee farmers are never battling hunger.

 

Q: Is food supply integrated into your survey?

A: We didn’t include food supply into the standard IWI. This is because food supply can vary from year to year – influenced by El Niño for example – while the IWI items are more robust, and by that, you can monitor progress over, let’s say, a 10-year period.

 

In 2017 Moyee will collaborate with Jeroen and his IWI team to monitor the Living Incomes of our farmers. We’ll benchmark the area to determine what the fairest possible income is for the men and women who grow our coffee. It goes without saying that we’ll be shamelessly transparent about our data and information. It’s your coffee, after all.

 

Next up in our Living Income series: Noura Hanna from the Global Living Wage Coalition

 

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Meet our smallholder: Terefe

The very short stories of the smallholder farmers growing your premium FairChain beans. Meet Terefe.

Name: Terefe Adego
Location:  Tega
Size of property: 0,75 hectares
Community role:  head of the Gabriel church

Terefe is a central figure in the Tega community. Not only does he head up the town church, but he also teaches the local youth. For a man with some authority, he lives in an extremely modest house with mud walls and corrugated iron roof. Terefe himself is modest as well. Ask him how the farming of his modest 0,75 hectares is going, and he’ll pass on all the credit for his successful harvest to his wife. “She is very strong,” he tells Mark when they meet in his small living room.

While most farmers name ‘weeds’ as their biggest problem, Terefe has bigger issues with wild animals, namely boars and monkeys. These animals roam freely in the Ethiopia highlands and steal the ripe red cherries straight off the plants before Terefe and his wife can pick them.

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Abayneh: Master of the Coffee Universe

Abayneh is the last of the ‘4 A’s’ that accompanied us up into the Ethiopian highlands to help us help our FairChain farmers optimise the use of their lands. Like the other ‘A’s, Abayneh is a top student at Jimma University where he specialises in the breeding and genetics of coffee plant seedlings. How’s that for an academic specialty?

Just 29 years old, born and raised in Kaffa, Abayneh is incredibly experienced in his field thanks largely to his 4-plus years of experience at the Bonga research center situated in the heart of Kaffa.

He’s set to receive his Master in Science next year, at which point, we predict, he’ll single-handedly increase the Ethiopian coffee yield by two!

 

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This is Altaye: Plant Doctor Extraordinaire!

Altaye is another one of our promising young collaborators from Jimma University. Because all four students travelling with us through Kaffa have names that begin with the letter ‘A’, we simply referred to them as our  ‘4 A’s’.

Back to Altaye. As a plant pathologic, he was the only real doctor on our recent field trip through Kaffa. He knows literarily everything about coffee berry disease (cbd, yes it’s a real disease) and other biological diseases that effect coffee harvests.

During our visit the farmers readily approached Altaye to discuss both cholera and cbd, both by far the most serious issues facing Ethiopian farmers. Because Altaye knows the steps the farmers need to take to prevent these diseases, he was a very popular fellow on our trip. Preventing these diseases increases farmer’s yield and thus their income.

Altaye eagerly wants to be part of our FairChain revolution. And quite honestly, we are happy to have him there. His contribution to farmers is invaluable in helping them get rid of their biggest headache: cbd.

 

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The world according to Inka: How Ethiopian Smallholders can immediately improve their yields (and finances)

A crucial member of our troupe during our early December road trip through the Kaffa highlands was Inka. Inka is an internationally engaged soil expert who spends much of her life helping farmers adopt “climate smart” methods. We were more than happy to have her on board of our Land Rover, because with her on the team we could truly provide our FairChain smallholders valuable information to help them improve their yields. Not just long term best practices, but also immediate impact that leads (again immediately) to move money for them.

On the trip she inspected our smallholders’ soil, vegetation and agriculture practices. Following closely in her footsteps were, of course, our ‘4 A’s from Jimma University (read their stories on this blog), eager to learn from her. Inka was also the one who came up with the brilliant idea to organize group sessions involving some 30 locals in order to reach even more farmers. No sooner said than done – farmers could lay hand on correct pruning of coffee trees and discuss the best composting methods:

composting training session
Farmers learning about composting
Now that's pruning
Now that’s pruning!

Inka spent the few weeks following our trip organizing her findings into concrete recommendations for, specifically, the smallholders working the land around the Tega&Tula farm near Bonga Town. These farmers are amongst our most ambitious FairChain farmers. Rather than edit her assessment down, we thought we’d share them with you, dear coffee drinkers, without sweetening them up. So without further ado, here are Inka’s most important takeouts. Enjoy the read, very interesting!

  • All the smallholders are eager to learn and improve.
  • Their coffee trees are not well managed, with trees planted way too close to each other.
  • There is no sign of rejuvenation: the majority of the trees exceed 3 meters, a height that makes them difficult to harvest. Many of the trees, in fact, were very old, many upwards of 60 years old.
  • The shade cover of many trees was too much. Often, they used the wrong type of trees for shade – trees with large leaves rather than with feathery leaves, which let through more sunlight.
  • Coffee tree disease is rampant – the main culprits were coffee berry disease, coffee wilt, coffee rust, white spot, leaf roller, leaf miner and dieback.
  • The majority of farmers do not use fertilizer but natural mulch made from weeds and branches combined with composted manure – and sometimes nothing at all.
  • The major nutrient deficiencies in the plants are Nitrogen and Phosphorus, but there are others as well.
  • The farm soils were predominantly moist, coarse with sandy loam, well structured with good drainage and water holding capacity, which is good.
  • The trees stood stable and their roots were looking goood – there is no apparent problem with harmful soil nematodes, or roundworms, which are detrimental to coffee plants.
  • Due to good mulch or plant coverage, there are no erosion issues, either.
  • The majority of farmers do not use fertilizer but natural mulch made from weeds and branches combined with composted manure.
  • The soil seems fertile enough to continue to support coffee plants, but with the improved cultivation and management techniques soil fertility will become a high priority.
  • The main agronomical challenges named by the farmers are weeds and disease. They also named labor shortage as a major issue due to that farms have to compete for harvest workers. The Tega&Tula farm, for example, pays twice as much per kilogram for cherries than other farms in the area.
  • They need training on how to better select the type of shade trees they use: feathery banana leaves that let sun through better than large opaque leaves, for example.

According to Inka, these are the most pressing needs for our farmers:

  • They need to improve their skills in disease prevention and management.
  • They need training on how to better select the type of shade trees they use: feathery leaves that let sun through better than large opaque leaves, for example.
  • They must improve their ground compost preparation methods. So far they make compost in pits, which creates a lot of unnecessary work and make aeration of the compost difficult. Great if they can use cherry pulp or the water from coffee washing, as it’s full of the best nutrients for coffee.
  • General improvements in how they handle their harvest and post-harvest
  • Focus on practice field training that can eventually be accompanied by written and/or images that guide them
  • For increased harvest hygiene and affordability, they can construct drying tables out of renewable materials like bamboo.

Thanks Inka, you’re awesome. Now let’s get to work making this happen!