ICP works with smallholder coffee farming families and their communities in coffee-growing regions. Our goal is a more prosperous future for them. And it is also to share experiences and knowledge and to raise awareness of the farmers’ challenges. The author of this blog post, Andreína Parés, had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania and get a first-hand glimpse into the Tanzanian coffee world that hides behind the cup we drink every morning. Andreína is a coffee lover, as she describes herself. Being originally from Venezuela, the 29-year-old herself was raised in a coffee-growing country. She moved to Hamburg, Germany, in 2018 where she has been working as an electronics engineer ever since. In this blogpost, she shares with us what she learned and experienced while visiting Tanzania.
A delicious cup of coffee is way more than a drink. Coffee is a ritual. An invitation. Coffee means a good conversation, spending quality time with friends or just with yourself. A first date or a date with a good book. Reading the news and catching up with the world. A way to get to know your colleagues and neighbors, a reason to go for a walk. Coffee brings people together.
I am a coffee lover, living in Hamburg, Germany. So, when I had the chance to travel to a Tanzanian coffee region, I did not hesitate. Being from Venezuela originally, a coffee-producing country as well, I had always wondered what happens behind the coffee-producing scenes. I always wanted to experience the farming process, learn more about how coffee is produced, and follow its way from the field to the cup. I had no idea what to expect – and I was just impressed!
"Many people travel to Tanzania for wildlife safaris or to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But the fact that Tanzania is closely connected with coffee is rather unknown. Indeed, coffee production plays an eminent role in the country’s economy."
Tanzania can definitely be called a coffee-growing country. Although locals are more inclined to drink tea, coffee is the largest export crop in Tanzania. 90 percent of the coffee produced in Tanzania is exported and it contributes a large share to the economy. It is the main source of income for 450,000 smallholder farming households who are responsible for 90 percent of the coffee production in the country. Although most farmers consume little of their own product, there is a growing internal market in Tanzania. Local coffee consumption has increased in the past years and the trend is expected to continue as the result of local coffee consumption campaigns. Tanzanian coffee is very good and high quality; 70 percent of Tanzania’s coffee is Arabica.
In Mbeya and Mbinga, the coffee regions that I visited, I had the chance to experience local traditions and Tanzanian coffee production firsthand. I learned some expressions in Swahili and was able to communicate with the locals. I also tried local food, like Ugali (maize flour and water cooked slowly until it reaches a dough-like consistency – a staple eaten with beef stew) or Samosas (baked pastries filled with herbs, vegetables, and beef). And of course, I found out so much about coffee: Where and how the process starts, harvesting and coffee treatment, and all the steps it goes through before being sold.
Coffee seeds are planted and grown in nurseries before they are transferred to the field to grow into bushy trees. The trees need to be continuously cared for, watered, nourished, and protected from disease. This is a lot of work before farmers even get a revenue from it. Only after three to four years, do the plants bear their first coffee cherries which are picked by hand when they have turned from green to red once per year. During the following processing steps, the beans are separated from the pulp and fermented, dried, hulled, graded, and sorted. The resulting so-called green beans are loaded on ships and exported. In the importing country, they are tasted and judged through a process called cupping, they are roasted, and finally ground and brewed. On the one hand, I learned a lot about the production process, but what really struck me were the various challenges that farmer families have to face.
"Now that I know the whole process, I appreciate my espresso even more. It is such a long way from planting and growing a coffee tree to the final end product: a delicious cup of coffee."
The largest part of the work is done in the coffee-producing country and 80 percent of the world’s coffee is produced by smallholder coffee farmers. In Mbeya and Mbinga I learned about the very specific challenges they face. They often have a low living standard. Many people have limited access to farming and household products as well as to information. I have noticed gender inequalities, such as women carrying the majority of the workload. They often have to walk huge distances with poorly built roads to run errands or to fetch water. And last but not least, the high impact of climate change is a huge problem. But in the midst of all these adversities, it was so good to see what is being done on the ground to assist farmer families in improving their situation.
I gained insight into the project of International Coffee Partners (ICP) which is addressing these challenges and aiming for greater prosperity for the farming families. ICP works in Tanzania since 2006. Through its implementing partner Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), ICP provides agronomist training to farming families to increase their production, make it more sustainable and improve their yields and market access. ICP’s project fosters the integration of the whole family into the coffee production business, including youth, and an even distribution of the workload and responsibilities for more gender equality. Farmer families participating in the training over a certain time are visibly able to improve their livelihoods. Also, many of them are better able to finance their children’s education like that. I have seen families whose businesses are thriving due to the assistance of ICP’s project on the ground. ICP has indeed already created a lasting change for more than 25,000 farming families in Tanzania.
"I think, many people in Europe, even coffee lovers, don’t have an idea of the challenges coffee farmers face. It is extremely important to raise awareness about this."
It made me very positive to see what changes are possible. Social and ecological sustainability are highly important to me. I think people are paying more attention to the impact our actions have on the world. However, there is still some way to go to raise more awareness and also to make consumers understand the long way that lies behind a cup of coffee. I for myself can say that I appreciate good quality coffee now more than before. And when I drink my espresso I am more aware of what is behind this cup, where the coffee comes from, and all it went through before getting to me.