Investing inwater & energyin Uganda

Just across the border from Kenya, the smallholder coffee farms that grow our Ugandan coffee are located high on the slopes of Mount Elgon – a 24 million-year-old extinct volcano, around a beautiful series of waterfalls called Sipi Falls.

These 9000 small-scale farms, whose beans make their way into our Rich Italian and Lazy Sunday blends, take their coffee cherries to a wet mill owned by Kawacom. Kawacom then buy the cherries from the farmers, process them and sell them to us.

As we don’t deal directly with the farmers, it can be hard to reward them for their high quality coffee – so instead of simply paying more for their coffee beans, we choose to invest in sustainability projects that will support their livelihoods and communities. That way we know that we’re definitely making a difference to their lives.

So in the last year, we’ve invested £50,000 in a project with Kawacom focused on three important benefits for the farmers – water access, clean energy and improved agricultural practices.

Access to water in this region is scarce outside of the rainy season – and climate change will make it scarcer still. By building a water pipeline that uses gravity to transport water for many miles, we’ve been able to bring clean, reliable water to around 700 households and Chema Secondary School, a school with 300 students.

Our head of sustainable development, Simon Hotchkin, said: “The lack of clean water was a significant issue around the Sipi Falls wet mill – not only was it contributing to water-related illnesses, but people (mainly women) were having to trek miles to fetch clean water from the nearest water point.

“By installing this pipeline and four taps along the way, we’ve managed to provide clean water to hundreds of households and also save time – hours that were spent fetching water can now be spent bringing in additional money for the family.”

The Sipi Falls waterfall

The programme’s second focus was to set up a cleaner, cheaper fuel source for coffee farmers, who previously used wood and paraffin burners. 63 domestic biogas digesters were built, which use waste created by cows and goats to generate methane gas.

This clean-burning gas generally replaces wood and paraffin, resulting in huge health benefits to the family, significant savings in fuel costs and less of a burden on local forests – as well as providing a ready source of fertiliser in the form of bio-slurry to improve the fertility of their soil. These demonstration farms are being set up, supported and promoted to encourage other farmers to install biogas digesters, showing them the positive effects on coffee yields, health and income.

The third part of the project was providing training for farmers on using compost to improve coffee plant nutrition and soil fertility. During processing, the coffee bean is extracted from the cherry and often the fruit is simply thrown away, but this programme trained farmers in how to collect it, maintain it and use it, rather than it going to waste. As an added bonus, using compost in place of traditional fertilisers will save farmers money.

Our sustainable sourcing manager, Krisztina Szalai says: “This isn’t a revolutionary idea. It’s been around a long time, but despite that there are lots of people who aren’t doing it. This project is about training people in how to use it and what the benefits are.”

Simon added: “The great thing about this project is that it supports a number of our ambitions – it improves clean water supply and health in the region, reduces deforestation, promotes good agricultural practices and helps farmers adapt to the effects of climate change. It’s also a great example of us working hand-in-hand with a key supplier.”

Simon Hotchkin on a coffee farm with Benjamin Asele, Kawacom and Norman Mkuru, Rainforest Alliance.

We are currently in the process of reviewing how the project went and agreeing what 2018’s project will be. Kawacom are one of our key strategic suppliers, and as part of our commitment to a long-term relationship we have been able to offer them funding for projects over the next three years.

The close, collaborative partnership we have with Kawacom is part of the reason they were chosen as our Coffee Supplier of the Year for 2017 – the first supplier to win this award twice!

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