The history of agriculture in developing countries over the last half of the twentieth century is wrought with the tragic consequences of colonization; but in Africa, the history of coffee comes with an additional twist of irony. The commercial cultivation of coffee as a cash crop was introduced into the birthplace of coffee by Europeans.
The strife that followed a wave of independence sweeping the continent, almost all of it occurring over just three decades between 1950 and 1980, was, perhaps, inevitable. But there was always promise, and promise has given way to an enduring hope for the future of “Africa rising.”
Instability and uncertainty in post-colonial Africa had an impact on coffee production, which was further complicated by exposure to market forces and competition, both internally and externally, after the collapse of internationally regulated coffee trade. Of the world’s four major coffee growing regions, Africa is the only one that has not experienced production growth in the coffee sector over the last 50 years and has, in fact, experienced a decrease overall. Whereas the continent once accounted for 25 percent of the world’s coffee, it now accounts for less than 15 percent. Exports from nearly every coffee growing country in Africa are lower now than they were twenty years ago. The most notable exception is Ethiopia, where coffee exports have reached 3 million bags, nearly double the number in 1997.
Less dramatic, but nevertheless unique for Africa, is the strong and steady growth in Tanzania.
Taking the average number of bags exported annually over the last 10 years—to account for crop fluctuations—Tanzania has experienced an increase of 11 percent over the previous 10 years. That might not seem like much until you consider that only two other African countries have experienced growth by the same measure, Ethiopia (37%) and Uganda (1%). Tanzania broke the 1 million bags exported ceiling for the first time in 2009 and did it again in 2013.
This increase in exports has coincided with a near 600 percent increase in domestic coffee consumption over twenty years. The only coffee growing country to experience a more dramatic increase is Vietnam, where domestic coffee consumption has grown by 700 percent over the same period.
In specialty coffee, Tanzania has been long known for its peaberry, often the only Tanzanian coffee on offer from most roasters, but that is changing. Olam has brought its integrated supply chain approach to the region, an approach that not only helps ensure quality, but provides an opportunity to increase sustainable practices. Such is the case with Olam’s Aviv Coffee Plantation in southern Tanzania.
Aviv reached one of several sustainability milestones planned for the plantation, planted with 1,025 ha of coffee, in August 2016 when it achieved conformity with core criteria for the International Water Stewardship Standards (IWSS) established by the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS). Aviv is the first site in Africa to do this.
Located near the Ruvuma River basin, Olam’s Aviv coffee plantation faces several challenges: The region is prone to cycles of flooding and drought, there is significant competition and conflict over water use, and the government lacks resources to effectively regulate issues around water, even though progressive water laws have been passed.
By spearheading collaboration among regional stakeholders, investing directly in water-related infrastructure in the community and on the plantation, which is home to a wet mill, and demonstrating adoption of standards not only for sustainable use of water in agricultural, but sanitation and hygiene as well, Olam Aviv has confirmed its commitment to long-term sustainability and a specific commitment to water management that is responsible and respectful of the environment and those who share it with Aviv. But this is only the beginning. Having achieved conformity with core criteria established by IWSS, Aviv will now be pursuing the more rigorous Gold and then Platinum certifications.
To receive Rainforest Alliance certification, Aviv had to meet criteria established by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), which encompass:
- SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
- WILDLIFE PROTECTION
- WATER CONSERVATION
- FAIR TREATMENT AND GOOD WORKING CONDITIONS FOR WORKERS
- OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
- COMMUNITY RELATIONS
- INTEGRATED CROP MANAGEMENT
- SOIL MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION
- INTEGRATED WASTE MANAGEMENT
Key to Rainforest certification was the fact that Aviv has set aside more than 15 percent of its land for wildlife conservation. Olam expects over 26,000 bags of coffee to be certified by Rainforest from the plantation itself with more coming from smallholder partner farms in the region supported by Olam as part of the Olam Livelihood Charter.
UTZ certification requires adherence to a comprehensive code of conduct framed around continuous improvement in four key areas:
- FARM MANAGEMENT
- FARMING PRACTICES
- SOCIAL AND LIVING CONDITIONS
These recent certifications are part of a multi-layered, even overlapping, approach to sustainable business that recognizes the issues are too complex for just one strategy or program, and they are only the latest developments in Olam’s commitment to sustainability in southern highlands of Tanzania.
In the local communities, Olam has introduced “Long Term Sustainable Development Plans.” Rather than decide what the local villages need, Olam listens to what each community says it needs, then both Olam and the village together contribute resources to making it happen. This can and has meant building a home for a teacher, starting a small business, building a pharmacy, new school desks, and an entire new school.
And to top it off, we should not fail to mention that Aviv also grows some excellent coffee, which will be available from Olam Specialty next month.