By Sheena Shah – Programs Manager
‘In Rongo, near Lake Victoria in Kenya, a group of farmers are risking a return to coffee growing. Supported by Biovison and PRI-Kenya, they are using ecological methods to grow high quality coffee beans’ Mirjam Moser, Biovison Foundation.
Jane Migao (Cover) and her husband Caleb, an abundantly cheerful couple who started Sustainable Village Resources (SVR) in 2013 awaited to hear the good news about Rongo Coffee going up in stores this holiday season after we shared with them the possibility of it all happening!
PRI Kenya has been working closely with their partners, Sustainable Village Resources to implement an organic coffee project and create markets. With the help of funding from SLush Fund US and Biovision Foundation, farmers are regenerating the land, producing a premium-grade coffee, and creating additional sources of income. Within a short time, Rongo Coffee is now available in most leading supermarkets and online shops across Nairobi! It has been a gratifying experience getting more hands on in the production and process of it all and working with one of Kenya’s leading roasters, Safari Lounge Tea & Coffee Connection. This has enhanced great partnerships and relationships to bring Kenya excellent organic coffee which is very rare here, not to mention pure top quality coffee directly to the consumer!
The Rongo Coffee Farmers are a group of farmers from all five locations around Rongo region who still have their coffee trees, but have struggled due to a lack of processing equipment and lack of access to markets and fair prices. This is where PRI Kenya has come in and partnered with the group to support the farmers in their efforts to create environmentally sustainable livelihoods and helping with climate change mitigation. A total of 10 women and 25 men have been trained as part of a project that is supported by Biovision Foundation and SLush Fund US and is run by the “Permaculture Research Institute of Kenya” and the local association “Sustainable Village Resources”. The farmers have recently boosted yield just through composting techniques that we provided capacity building and training on. “The production of organic compost was one of the most useful things I learned from the courses on ecological coffee growing,” says Mrs Migao. Her compost comes from her own cow. “This natural fertiliser provides plants with important nutrients such as potassium, sodium and nitrogen,” she explains, adding that it also increases the fertility and moisture content of the soil.The co-op is slowly growing and utilizing every effort to produce invaluable high quality coffee, which has projected a magnitude of success to end this year!
Rongo, in Migori county (Western Kenya), is blessed with fertile soils and abundant rains but unsustainable agricultural practices have seen an increasing deforestation and soil erosion in the area. The farmers in the area used to make a good income from coffee, but most abandoned their coffee production in favor of sugar production. Despite the good soils and rainfall farmers are struggling to make a living from their sugarcane with volatile markets. Through our efforts over the last three years, we have assisted the groups through trainings, which has enhanced their growth in production. Together they have worked to develop a deep, rich topsoil by creating mulch out of the coffee cherry pulp. Adding other nitrogen-rich elements to it, they turn it for a full year to create a compost to spread around the base of the trees. This allows the plants to develop a longer root structure, improving moisture content, reducing soil erosion, and resulting in a clean taste, not to mention growing within a food forest system (shade grown) –
PRI Kenya and SVR recently had a visit from Biovision’s coordinator, Mirjam Moser where she visited the farmers with PRI Chairman, Nicholas Syano. Mirjam last visited the project when it was initially starting up in 2014 and now sees a lot of changes, she says ‘the plants are clearly healthy and productive as the branches of the coffee plants bend under the weight of the plump berries.’ Jane also points out with pride that their coffee has been awarded the top AA rating. “Coffee is black gold,” say Caleb and Jane. It is four times as profitable as sugar cane. Since they started to grow organic coffee, they have doubled their income. However, the business is dependent upon market prices and these can sometimes be unpredictable. PRI Kenya has been providing SVR access to markets and small consumers for almost two years now, allowing the farmers to receive a steady flow of income. We however didn’t expect the coffee to be sitting on the shelves across Nairobi and the region so quick equating to a high demand in sustainable grown coffee with a great aroma and taste profile, not to mention the only brand that stands out with a delightful impact story on the back of the pack! The roasters have worked hard in bringing Kenyans a beautiful chocolately blend this holiday season. They have taken us through the process of high quality grading, roasting and cupping techniques which has been educational for all of us to understand for the final branding purposes.
Mirjam and SVR’s project coordinator, Paul Omolo also got the opportunity to visit the roasters and see the product in action from bean to cup and understand the taste profile which enhanced an even deeper connection with the roasters, farmers and supporters. Rongo ‘seasonal’ Coffee is now available at most leading supermarkets and online shops and Terminal 1A Duty Free!! It’s a few days to Christmas and if you still haven’t managed to find the perfect Christmas gift for that someone special, it’s never too late! 😉 Your support means a lot to us!! It’s a very humbling time for the farmers to see their product go on the shelves and being enjoyed all over the Globe as well, thanks to everyone who passed it along!
Permaculture, with its remarkable ability to contribute to socioeconomic development at the household level, truly does transform lives!