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Mrimbo Uuwo AMCOS

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Partner since: 2022 Traceable to: 305 members Altitude: 1400 - 1700 Varietals: Kent, Bourbon
Processing:

Cherries are sorted before home pulping with wooden hand pulper, then fermented in clean water for 72 hours. Parchment is then washed and raised on dried beds for 11-14 days.

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Community Context

Mrimbo Uuwo AMCOS was one of the original cooperatives in Kilimanjaro. Founded in 1984 as part of the now-defunct KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Inion), the AMCOS managed to survive KNCU’s collapse, and maintain its organic certification over the 8 years since. This is no small feat. Most smallholder groups in Kilimanjaro find it difficult to get certification, let alone maintain it without direct clients. In 2021 the group join an international and local development project called the ‘Kilimanjaro Revival Program’. This provides training, seedling, and incentives to increase smallholder engagement in specialty coffee so as to preserve the heirloom practices and varietals that made Tanzanian coffee famous in the first place.

Country Context

Oral tradition dates the origins of Tanzanian coffee to the 16th century, when the Haya people brought coffee—almost certainly robusta—from Ethiopia into the country. German colonial rule of the country led to its establishment and expansion of coffee cultivation as a commercial industry, with the government in 1911 mandating the planting of Arabica in the northern region of Bukoba, around Lake Victoria. By then, Arabica coffee had grown around Kilimanjaro since 1835 when German colonizers brought coffee to Kaleme Church.

In 2018, the Tanzanian government changed the country’s export regulations, moving the formerly centralized coffee auction system to a decentralized, regional model and making it so that private buyers and exporters could no longer purchase cherry or parchment coffee from individual farmers. This left estates and Agricultural Marketing Co-operative Societies—or AMCOS—as the sole channel for purchasing cherry or parchment from growers and processing it for export through regional auctions.

As smallholders—who produce 90+% of Tanzania’s coffee—organized into AMCOS, it created pathways for coffee growers to revitalize their farms and the country’s coffee exports. AMCOS are structured to be lean to allow any pricing premiums to pass to members directly rather than to administrators or other cost centers common to cooperatives in other countries.

Wet mills are expensive and cooperatives compete based on their efficiency–so without incentive to process centrally, most groups deal exclusively in parchment which has been washed and dried at a farmers’ home; aka Home Processed (HP). Almost all smallholder coffee grown on Kilimanjaro is collected as HP parchment, in contrast to groups in the South who have a longer tradition of working in cherry, which allows for centralized processing, and all of the control that this brings to fermentation, drying and storage.

Smallholder coffee from Kilimanjaro, specifically, used to account for over half of Tanzania’s Arabica; by 2020 it was less than one-fifth. Old trees, aging farmers, and low premiums contributed to this decline—as did regulations supporting the growth of estates. In response, the European Union funded, with the support of the local coffee community, a revitalization effort—the Kilimanjaro Smallholder Revival Project—aimed at engaging the next generation of smallholders on Kilimanjaro, and in doing so, preserving the practices, cultivars and profiles that first made Tanzanian coffee renowned.

In the South, we work primarily in Mbeya and Mbinga, both within two days’ drive from the capital and port city of Dar es Salaam. In the early 2000’s, began noticing the variety of flavors coming out of the South. Compared to the North, where volumes were, before the emergence of new AMCOS and the KSPR, dominated by large estates, the South is home to diverse terroirs and profiles. Over the next two decades this interest encouraged the growth of AMCOSs and exporter activity, increasing both quality and production.