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Helping hands for Songwa

From the May 2017 issue.

Three of the coffee industry’s leading players are stepping up their efforts to fund a farming initiative they set up 10 years ago.

Hands for Songwa

La Marzocco, Mahlkönig and Probat set up Songwa Estates in Tanzania back in 2007 as a way to gain a much deeper understanding of the growing, processing and marketing of green coffee in developing countries in a manner that goes well beyond what can be experienced during a brief farm visit.

While the three companies have invested heavily in the farm over that time and focused a lot of their attention on ensuring that the workers and surrounding communities all benefited from it, they have now moved to institute a more formal program in the form of Hands for Songwa.

In 2012 and again in 2015, the three partner companies arranged and paid for the demolition and rebuild of two school buildings at the Muvwa Primary School, which is very close to the plantation and hosts more than 320 children from ages five to 14 years. In 2016, the partners completed a project which brought water to the same school and installed rest room facilities for boys and girls. The project had began under the auspices of an NGO, but reached a certain stage and remained uncompleted until the partners stepped in.

The new project enshrines a commitment from all three companies to draw a percentage from their sales and put it towards new projects on an annual basis, informed by a specific strategy.

Mary Diamond is the corporate social responsibility manager at La Marzocco, and has been involved in the Songwa Estates project from its inception.

She says that the funds raised in 2017 will see the installation of four wells, with pumps and cement platforms, all strategically placed near the river lying closest to the farm and providing clean water to the immediate, populous community.

“We do intend to return to rebuild other school buildings in the area, as well as nearby orphanages and perhaps incorporate sustainable building practices by using local materials and labour, but some minor changes that potentially would improve comfort in light of annual weather conditions [that varies from the very hot and dry season to a very wet one],” Diamond says. “We will also look into the installation of solar energy since most households in the nearby villages lack electricity.”

Diamond has visited the Songwa Estates twice in her career, and characterises the experience with one word: “amazing.”

“On the first trip, I participated in the educational seminar which included time to harvest, together with the local pickers, mostly women, and plant,” she says. “I especially enjoyed that time with the women who were picking. They were so much more efficient than me – faster, yet the entire time kept up banter and laughter in their own language. While I could not understand, I don’t think it is difficult to imagine just what they could have been laughing about so it just brought joy and allowed me to feel, even if only temporarily, a kindred spirit.”

Customers of the three supporting companies will be able to see evidence of their support for the project literally on the machines that they buy.

“In the case of La Marzocco and Mahlkönig, every espresso machine and grinder leaving the manufacturing facilities will be labelled with the exact amount being donated,” Diamond says.

“In the case of Probat, it is every Micro Roaster leaving that factory, and those will be labelled with the exact amount being donated.” GCR

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