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East Africa’s specialty coffee shows incredible growth: report

Sorting coffee in South SudanIn the past few years, East Africa has undergone dramatic improvements in the quality and geographical diversity of its specialty coffee, according to a report from non-profit organisation TechnoServe .

The region now produces approximately 25 per cent more high-quality coffee than it did 10 years ago, benefiting both the smallholder farmers who produce the coffee and the specialty coffee companies looking for new and better flavours to bring consumers.

The TechnoServe report highlights the impact of a nearly ten-year initiative called the Coffee Initiative, which resulted in an increase of almost 8,000 metric tons of specialty coffee annually, 340 new or improved coffee processing plants (called “wet mills”), US$25 million in new corporate investment and over a quarter of a million (268,000) farmers benefiting in the region.

“Traditionally, specialty coffee in East Africa came from only a few regions,” said Paul Stewart, TechnoServe’s Global Coffee Director, who headed the project. “But with the incredible growth of the region’s specialty coffee sector, there are now dozens of new areas around East Africa that are producing high-quality coffee and attracting interest from specialty coffee companies for the first time. This is changing how coffee buyers source from this region, and improving incomes for hundreds of thousands of smallholder coffee farmers.”

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by TechnoServe, the Coffee Initiative has achieved a number of important milestones.

Since it began, it has improved farmers’ average coffee incomes by 27 per cent.

This has been achieved through the training of nearly 140,000 coffee farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania in good agricultural practices, resulting in average yield increases of 38 per cent (and growing).

The initiative has helped farmer groups establish 195 new wet mills and improve operations at 145 additional wet mills, a critical component of enhancing coffee quality and sale prices.

It has also helped farmers connect with banks, exporters and other market actors to access more than US$21 million of financing and earn an average price increase of US$1.54 for each kilogram of coffee they sold.

According to Technoserve, the coffee sector holds particular promise for Africa’s economic development. While the continent is home to some of the world’s best coffee and over half of the world’s coffee farmers, it accounts for only 10 per cent of global coffee production.

At the same time, the international coffee market is growing by 140,000 metric tons per year, equivalent to the annual production of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi combined. And unlike industries like extractives, 60-70 per cent of the export price goes directly to smallholder farmers.

Coffee farmer cooperatives like Duromina in Ethiopia represent the kind of success farmers have achieved in the past few years. Previously producing low-quality beans for a low price, the cooperative received technical and financial guidance from the Coffee Initiative, and in 2012 its coffee was named the “Best in Africa” in a top international tasting competition. Farmers then invested the extra income into the community, resulting in a better school, a new bridge, a new medical clinic, access to electricity and other long-term improvements.

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