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Kilimanjaro Smallholders Revival Project

In our 2023 Tanzania Pre-Harvest Plan, we wrote about what we’d learned from our partners in Mwika North, and the resulting strategy to shift support towards coffee processed at a cooperatives’ Central Processing Units rather than the more traditional, and widely common method of processing coffee at home, then delivering parchment to the cooperative.

In Mwika, we observed cherry collections came in with higher premiums paid to members, predictably higher uniformity, quality and shelf stability as compared to corresponding HP coffee. We found that other investments made more of an impact as well; interventions such as shade cloth go further in a CPU where they can impact all of the community’s coffee in aggregate.

On average, we’ve seen cup scores come in 1-1.5 points higher from CPU versus HP coffee, but more, that CPU coffee has better water activity readings, and less of a tendency to fade. This gets to the root of the drying issues which have come to characterize some of Tanzania’s coffees over the past decade, and gives us more confidence to buy more qualities, which we are expecting them to retain for more time.

With this in mind, we’ve been looking for other Kilimanjaro cooperatives who might be willing to dust-off an old pulper or invest in a new central processing unit. The best new opportunity to present itself came through the Kilimanjaro Smallholder Revival Project (KSRP).

Originally subsidized by a European company and supported by our partners at Taylor Winch, KSRP aimed to reverse a trend that began with the collapse of the strength of the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU) following the nationalization and subsequent re-independence of the Union and liberalization of of the coffee industry in the 1990s. Without the support of a strong union, cooperatives collapsed as private exporters worked to secure coffee by buying it directly from cooperative members.

Smallholder coffee from Kilimanjaro—where coffee had grown since 1835—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, a European company 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.

The project and its German partners identified 9 AMCOSs to solicit for participation in the project then worked with them to secure organic certification and guaranteed premiums to promote quality and re-engage farmers; provided SL-28 seedlings, which were the cultivar that made coffee from Kilimanjaro famous; and established a youth corps to train the next generation of coffee producers.

We signed up to back cherry premiums for KSRP member groups who had the capacity and interest to collect and process cherries; specifically Marangu West, Lukani Lossa and Mrimbo Uuwo. Most of the volume would come from the six other cooperatives, and overall, come in as HP parchment—and therefore likely below the 85pt quality standard for Crop to Cup purchases. But the broader KRSP network and its backers lined-up a buyer in Europe for the coffee who, at the last minute, backed out—creating an opportunity for Crop to Cup to get involved in the project with the help of Taylor Winch.

For 2023, we were able to separate these coffees, which were collected in full container loads, by AMCOS. We hope, over the next few years, to work with partners to improve qualities and separations coming from their CPUs.