Tutunze Kahawa Limited (TKL), a cooperative working with coffee farmers in Tanzania recently achieved Rainforest Alliance certification. We caught up with TKL’s Sustainability Manager, Nangula Heita-Mwampamba, to find out a bit more about the motivation behind certification, the challenges of achieving it and the company’s hopes for the future.
Can you tell us a bit about TKL?
TKL has been working with smallholder coffee farmers in Tanzania since 2009, starting operations in Mbinga District and spreading to the Kilimanjaro and Kigoma Regions in 2012. Alongside procuring cherries and parchment from these farmers in a fair and trusting business relationship, TKL also provides extension services geared towards farmer group formation and management, improving agricultural practices, and certification standards with the objective of increasing coffee yields and coffee quality in order to increase farmers’ income and improve livelihoods.
Established in 2008, TKL is the Tanzania subsidiary of Ecom Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd, a leading green coffee merchant with export operations in 17 coffee producing countries around the world. The group, supported by trading offices in Switzerland, London, New York, San Fransico, Singapore and Japan, relies on its strong presence in origin, and the expertise built up over 185 years of business to provide tailor made solutions to it’s suppliers and buyers alike.
What made you decide to go down the certification route?
Ecom provides growers with access to information—from better farming practices to market data to innovations—so they can produce more, better, and more profitably.
Certification is an important part of this, and serves two interdependent objectives. Firstly, it provides buyer-clients with differentiated products and solutions – by providing better quality, traceability and certification, and partnering to improve supply chains from farm to customer; and secondly, it enables producer-clients (the farmers we work with) to be better, more profitable farmers – by providing training to attain certification and helping them to trade into higher value markets.
What were practices and attitudes like before you became involved with the Rainforest Alliance?
Before we started working with the Rainforest Alliance, there was not enough coffee processing units, which meant that farmers were processing the coffee at home, producing semi-washed coffees. This led to poor quality coffee due to inconsistent and un-uniform processing methods.
There were also poor pruning methods that reduced the coffee cropping potential. Wrong choices of fertilisers and other agrochemicals, along with wasteful applications meant that the cost of production was raised thereby reducing the farmers’ margins. Poor soil management practices led to leaching and erosion, which then resulted in the reduction in soil fertility. We also experienced the harvesting of unripe and overripe cherries that resulted in pulping and fermentation problems.
What were the challenges to achieving certification?
We had to ensure that all farmers received relevant training in time and that those farmers then adopted the practices that they had been trained in.
Management of the wet milling facilities, particularly waste (solid and liquid) proved to be a challenge, as we have had to ensure that the surrounding water bodies and communities were protected.
Finally, timing external auditor visits with ongoing activities on the ground without compromising staff time was also really important in the certification process.
What differences has certification made to TKL?
Certification has made a difference to both our farmers and our buyers. For farmers, TKL is the preferred extension service provider and buyer of sustainably grown coffee. Farmers have found that certification gives them a more reliable and long-term market, with better prices. For our buyers, TKL is recognized as a leading source of sustainably produced and traceable smallholder coffee in Tanzania.
What are you hopes for the future?
We hope to continue what we are doing and provide extension and other services to 100,000 Tanzianian coffee and cocoa farmers by 2017, at least half of whom will attain certification.
We would like more coffee farmers to practice sustainable farming practices that protect their health and the environment, improve soil management and increase the yield and quality of coffee and other crops on their farms.