TERRACING, DIGGING AND PLANTING

Profile:

Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union
Product focus: Coffee
Location: Mzuzu, Malawi
Type: Small producer – 2652 farmers
Fairtrade certified: 2009
Contact: Harrison Kalua – hbkalua@gmail.com

Challenge:

Climate change has wiped out nearly half of the five million coffee trees the members of the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union in the north of Malawi have planted since 1998. Rains have become very unpredictable and increasingly cause erosion. Mzuzu farmers are unable to install irrigation systems due to their high cost. In a bid to better harvest rainwater, the members have introduced a number of practical measures to their field – most of which are located on the slopes of mountains and hills around the region.

Solution:

Mzuzu obtained information on how to combat climate change via different channels. Government institutions have been helpful in disseminating information, and farmers have shared their knowledge and experiences during meetings and events. Mzuzu has set up an annual course for its producers to learn how to better conserve soil and water. The following techniques help retain water on the fields by slowing down soil erosion and give the coffee bushes more time to gradually absorb rain water:

(1) Terraces: the coffee growers are encouraged to terrace their fields or plant their bushes on ridges
(2) Grass: the members are planting vetiver grass around their crops as the grass’s thick and deep root system conserves soil and decrease surface water run-off
(3) Swales or trenches: Mzuzu farmers are digging trenches around their fields to better conserve the rainwater
(4) Cover crops: cover crops are planted between the coffee bushes to slow erosion and to shade and cool soils. In addition, they can provide extra food or livestock fodder.

The implementation of the different projects was first obstructed by the farmers, who were hesitant to introduce new technologies. Demonstrations of the projects on the farms and field day tours convinced the farmers of the benefits.

Costs:

Over the past five years Mzuzu has invested over 100,000 USD to train its farmers on the different technologies. It used its own resources and donor funds from the European Union, Twin Trading and  the Flemish International Cooperation Agency (FICA) in particular.

Results:

The mortality rate of coffee trees has decreased over the years and the yields have gradually gone up. In addition, coffee growers are adopting other sustainable technologies. Mzuzu anticipates that at least 70% of its farmers will adopt sustainable technologies in the next five years. However, many challenges remain. Mzuzu believes it could do more if it had access to new information and to the latest technologies.