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It’s late November 2022, Ian and I have travelled to Tanzania and the slopes of Kilimanjaro to visit the farmers, smallholders and friends that grow our coffee. For EA the relationships in Tanzania are the oldest we have and are a key part of our story. Regular trips and visits to the farm and the villages have been a critical part of not only securing contracts, but maintaining friendships and identifying where we can help with projects.
In the past few years, the global pandemic has put a rain check on any plans for travel and as such there is much that we need to catch up on. Personally, this is my first trip to origin, so there is a great deal for me to learn.
A few days into our visit and much of that time has been spent learning about coffee, not in a classroom or from a book, much of what I have learned were things that I thought I had understood from what I had read or been told. It wasn’t until I saw them in practice that I gained a true understanding of the magnitude, means or care given in each stage of the process.
At the farm I have seen the cherry be sorted in the syphon, pulped, washed, fermented and sorted during a second wash; I have watched and helped with the tireless process of hand sorting the beans on the drying tables. Although the magnitude and the means are impressive, it is the care that is given at every stage of the process that is truly astounding. That process begins in the nursery with the care given to the coffee trees themselves right up to the beans being milled and packed ready to be sent to Ethical Addictions for roasting.
This care also extends beyond the farm and the small holdings to the environment that they rely on. Reusing the pulped cherry as compost,growing coffee amongst the indigenous trees (shade grown), and building beehives.
Picking coffee with the Orera Villagers
Walking up to the Orera Village, that borders the top of the farm, we have had the privilege of picking alongside the owner of the small holding Laurent. Laurent is the chairman of the Orera CPU (Coffee Processing Unit) who’s sun stained EA cap is a testament to the long standing relationship between the village and us.
The same care is present on this small holding as it was at the farm. We manoeuvre around and through the trees selecting only the ripe cherries, placing them in the buckets, as we weave in and out of the maize and banana trees growing amongst the coffee.
By the end we are put to shame and our haul looks measly next to the experienced pickers. In spite of our meagre haul, the villagers are insistent that they honour our efforts. I’m told that since Ian already has a Chaga (the tribe indigenous to the mountain) name and since I picked on this small holding then I should take their name as my Chaga name so am christened Eliud Mrema (Eliud was given to me on a trip I made to Kenya where they struggled to pronounce my name).
It is a small thing but it feels like a genuine honour (even if, as I write this I still have no idea of the correct pronunciation of it). Following my naming, we take the coffee to the CPU to be pulped and washed (again with the same care as at the farm, even if the scales and methods vary.
The weather has turned, we have not long left the CPU but fat, soaking raindrops are beating down, soaking us and turning the narrow pathways though the lots of maize, coffee and banana trees into a greasy red mud. Thade our guide is ahead of us, leading the charge for shelter. When we finally arrive at his house we are drenched but smiling.
Thade’s house is further testament to the importance of the relationship EA has with the Orera Village. As I mentioned earlier, while this is my first trip to origin, this is not my first trip to East Africa, nor even its agricultural parts. When travelling in Africa, the majority of villages I have seen have consisted of almost entirely mud huts, or shacks of wood and corrugated sheet metal.
Like many in the Orera village, Thade’s house is made of brick and concrete, meaning that his family house will be safer and have greater longevity, lasting down his family’s generations. To us in the west this may seem like a strange thing to note, but it is truly a testament to what can be achieved when value is put back into farmers and smallholders, rather than the value of the crop being chipped away at by the various buyers and traders taking a cut of the profits in the markets. Sharing lunch at his house with his family is also a reminder that people and lasting, meaningful relationships are why we do what we do.
New Project With Omi School
It is our last stop of the day and we have made our way to the local school. We are standing outside a disused toilet block that is roped off and with good reason. The ground moves, bounces almost as though the floor is sprung. They were built on the caves in the mountain, the school’s principal explains but as the cave has eroded above and without the proper drainage, they are concerned that the floor could collapse at any moment. She taps her foot for emphasis and the floor shifts again. To the side of one of the toilets the floor has already given way and an unpleasant odour rises out of the pit.
These had been the boys toilets but since the threat of the toilets collapsing into the cave below, they have been using a new block of toilets that had originally been built for the girls. While the shell of that new block of toilets had been built by the government, the school had been left to find the funds to properly finish them. It seemed like this was something that we as EA should help with, especially since eighty percent of the children from the Orera village attended Omi School.
Climate Crisis - Kilimanjaro
Waking up we walk onto our veranda, looking up at the garden of our guest house at the Machare Farm. Our gaze is fixed far beyond the garden’s end.
It’s still cool, though in the short rains it won’t reach above the mid twenties. A veritable orchestra of different birdsong have already begun the dawn chorus that will continue throughout the day, such is the quantity and variety of life that teems in the trees that bathe the coffee farm in shade.
Beyond the rainforest, further up the slopes, who’s evaporating dew snakes lazily through the canopy. Our gaze is firmly fixed on the bank of cloud that is rolling away like a theatre curtain being drawn back, as though nature itself were taking joy in the theatrical, revealing of its own majesty. Kilimanjaro!
It stands dominating the landscape. The recent rain on the farm has translated as snowfall on the mountain. Its white cap is seemingly at odds with its tropical surroundings. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by its beauty. And yet, while we revel in this view and this moment it is also tinged with sadness.
The mountain’s summit slides out of view, once again obscured by a bank of cloud. The summit will reappear from time to time throughout the days, though its sudden disappearance of the snow swept slopes seems apt. The timing of the visit rides on the coattails of COP27. The conference being held on the African continent places a great deal of emphasis on the impact the climate crisis is already having on developing nations.
Much of the climate science published in the build up to and during the conference shared the same lens. Not a month earlier we had read a report that by 2050 a third of the world’s glaciers would be gone, including the Kilimanjaro glacier, the one we had just watched slip behind a bank of clouds.
The loss of the Kilimanjaro glacier is more than a matter of aesthetics. With the current rainfall the rivers that border the Machare Farm and through the Mweka villages, flow freely. The water bowsers for storing water and distributing it among homes are full. However when the rains stop, these rivers that feed all the life on these slopes, providing water to farms and farmers, rely on the glacial melt waters to flow year round. Without the glacier in the dry season there is a good chance the rivers will just vanish.
Leaving Tanzania it felt like we had packed a lot into just a few days. I had seen how the farm and the small holders worked, I had been astounded by the care that went into producing the coffee and had witnessed the impact of direct trade on the small hold farmers. We had spent time refreshing relationships and we had the possible beginning of a new project.
I’m returning to the roastery with a new sense of why the DNA of EA and what we do matter, both in the impact on the coffee and those who care for it at every part of its journey from farm to cup.