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On the fertile foothills of Kilimanjaro…

February 19, 2015
Clockwise from top left: A coffee tree grown in shade; unripe coffee berries; ripe coffee berries; the defunct fermentation unit; the hulling process; green coffee which is then sent to Wamama Kahawa for roasting

Clockwise from top left: A coffee tree grown in shade; unripe coffee berries; ripe coffee berries; the defunct fermentation unit; the hulling process; green coffee which is then sent to Wamama Kahawa for roasting

On 26th January 2015, our intern, Kristina, took a long bus journey from Dar es Salaam to Mku Rombo to visit Wamama Kahawa’s coffee suppliers. Here are some of her thoughts…

To many foreigners Tanzania is most well-known for being the home to Africa’s highest mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro. For Wamama Kahawa the Kilimanjaro region has another meaning, it is the place where we get our delicious coffee from.

During my internship with Wamama Kahawa in Dar-es-Salaam I had the chance to do a Study Tour to see where our coffee grows, and to visit and interview the coffee farmers about their lives and what challenges they face in growing coffee.

On Monday 26th January 2015 I started my 11-hour journey by bus to Moshi, one of Tanzania’s biggest cities in the North. Being a “mzungu” (a foreigner) can sometimes be pretty tiring in Tanzania, especially after travelling for 11 hours, where so many vendors tried to sell me “very nice safari”, “beautiful hotel” and so on. 🙂 After another hour’s ride in a Noah car (squeezed in with eleven other passengers), I finally made it to the Rombo village, where our contact mzee Tairo welcomed me warmly.

The next day Tairo came to pick me at 8 o’clock in the morning to introduce me to the different coffee suppliers. The landscape in the fertile Rombo district is breath-taking! It is so green and fertile, it is simply astonishing! After having spent so much time in hot, chaotic and busy Dar-es-Salaam I really enjoyed staying at a quiet cold, calm and peaceful place- it was almost like a vacation to me! 🙂

Beautiful Rombo Village in Northern Tanzania

Beautiful Rombo Village in Northern Tanzania

Meeting the different coffee suppliers was very interesting. Their stories impressed me and in the mean time the harsh market reality made me think a lot. In Switzerland, where I live, so many people do not care or even know where the food they buy is from, under which circumstances it is produced and what these crops mean to the farmers who grow them. To see a daily consumed product in many Western nations at its source – on the farmers’ shamba (farms), was impressive. Knowing the story behind a cup of coffee makes you more conscious next time you drink it – you will remember that the Arabica coffee cherries are hand-picked and how time-consuming it is to produce coffee as a crop!

All the farmers I talked to mentioned the difficulty of price instability in the coffee market. This resulted in them having to diversify their crops. Many farmers nowadays are growing different crops like maize, bananas, coffee and they also keep cows and goats. As a result, the amount of coffee actually produced by each farmer is relatively small.

What surprised me the most is that many farmers work individually, they no longer cooperate as community groups or cooperatives as they used in the past. This has, of course, its positive and negative sides. On the one hand, it makes them more flexible in terms of whom they may sell their coffee to as well as the price they can sell it at. On the other hand, it is also easy for them to be taken advantage of, as they have less bargaining power because they grow smaller quantities, are usually not aware of the current coffee price movements and are often desperate to make a quick sale when they are in need of cash.*

All in all, I got to learn a lot during this Study Tour in Rombo. It made me more conscious as a consumer, and it made me think about where the products I buy are from and under what circumstances they are produced.

*Disclosure: Wamama Kahawa purchases ungraded coffee beans in small batches directly from the farmers at 2 – 3 times the current market price for coffee. 

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