Since 1999, Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union believe that increased production of their award-winning coffee would improve their livelihood.
About Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union
Growing coffee is now seen as a very good business to be in, and being a part of Fairtrade gives farmers a lot of comfort as they are guaranteed a certain price. There are a lot of new farmers who want to get into coffee because of this.
The co-operative worked hard to put in place the improvements needed to meet Fairtrade standards and was Fairtrade certified in 2009. Last year 150 tonnes of their crop of 450 tonnes of coffee were sold to Fairtrade buyers, bringing stable prices and additional premiums for community development.
But the farmers still face huge challenges in their fight for a better life. Climate change has wiped out nearly half of the 10 million coffee trees they have planted since 2003. Colder nights, hotter days and unpredictable rains combined with more pests and disease are affecting the union’s 3,500 smallholder members very badly, according to Bernard Kaunda. ‘We have not been able to quantify the loss to our members in terms of income, but it is tremendous when you consider how many coffee trees have died over the years. Instead of making a good income, the farmers are struggling to cope,’ he said.
Meeting Fairtrade Standards has supported the union in tackling the effects of climate change: farmers have planted shade trees to protect coffee bushes from the sun, terraced their fields to retain water and planted vetiver grass to combat soil erosion and conserve water.
Fairtrade Premiums have been used to improve local infrastructure by building bridges and accommodation has been built to attract teachers to the area for the benefit of the wider community. The union now plans to improve coffee quality by building a processing facility and providing new coffee drying tables. But members live with the uncertainty that further increases in temperature in the mountainous Mzuzu region could undo all their hard work.