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Malawi Coffee Co-operative Visit

June 23, 2017 / FairTrader

On 25th May 2017, Fair Trader secretary Mark Lewis visited The Mangoni Coffee Co-operative in Lizulu, near Ntcheu, Malawi in the company of John Mulangeni, project manager of Co-operative Enterprise Pathways for Economic and Environmental Sustainability in Malawi Project (CEPEESM).

The Mangoni Coffee Co-operative was established in February 2015 with support from CEPEESM, who are partnering The Co-operative College and funded by the Scottish Government. It now has 255 farmers, with a further 3371 within a 15km area wanting to join. The farmers buy organic certified seed from The Mzuzu Coffee Co-operative, at a cost of MK 3000/kg; the plan is for 300kg of seed this year which will be planted in December/January and then require two to three years to come into production.

Malawi 1 Farmers and committee members in the local school where we met

They currently have about 100,000 bushes planted, but only a small number are in production so their crop is only going to be 800-1000kg. Harvesting is in July/August and after a few years the bushes produce 10-15kg each so they will become a significant producer – their plan predicts 100 tonnes within five years. Varieties planted are Geisha and Catmor and the trees have a 30-year life. Bananas are planted amongst the coffee to provide shade and fix calcium in the soil. Marigolds and onions are planted around the crop to discourage pests which are controlled with neem (natural pest control) if necessary.

Goat manure is used to fertilise the coffee and they need more, but still need to explore the potential market for milk, butter, cheese etc. There are dairies in Lilongwe and Blantyre that might be interested.

Malawi 2 Bananas and marigolds adjacent to the coffee contrast with deforested area at the top of the mountain

Training and education on organic cultivation was funded but now the NGO involved has withdrawn and they depend on limited voluntary help from the previous extension officer. As yet they have no processing equipment or pulping machinery, so any production has to be sent to Mzuzu for processing.

During the visit, Fair Trader presented the assembled farmers and their management committee with the technical assessment of a sample they provided last year (a poor harvest due to very hot, dry weather), kindly undertaken by Damien Blackburn of Yorkshire-based Darkwoods Coffee. They were most appreciative and grateful, and presented us with the regalia of an Ngoni chief to celebrate our visit. Our intention now is to place a larger order of about 50 kg and provide our members and other co-operatives with trial quantities for evaluation.

Malawi 3 John Mulangeni sporting his Ngoni headgear follows the farmer into the coffee garden

After the meeting we visited a typical smallholding near Chilobwe village, a few kilometres away. Like most it is only accessible on foot, and 4WD vehicles are needed to even get close. The steep slopes were all terraced using the large rocks dug out of the ground when preparing the soil – a massive undertaking for one man using just a hoe, without any machinery.

Malawi 4 Terracing of the coffee bushes

Malawi 5 Walking back to the village

The houses of the smallholding have no electricity or running water, but the farmer’s main concern was the provision of education and healthcare for his family, and to mend the roof of his house. Hopefully the project will succeed and the future for his children will be good. The environmental impact of the CEPEESM project will also be very positive, as many trees in this beautiful area have been felled for making charcoal for cooking, depleting the soil and increasing the flood risk.

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