Coffee Board touts organic farming promising for smallholder farmers

12Dec 2019
Francis Kajubi
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Coffee Board touts organic farming promising for smallholder farmers

 The first of its kind National Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) conference was held in Dodoma late last month and, among other things, revealed that organic crops such as coffee,-

-cotton and tea are paying farmers more compared to conventional crops because of appreciating local and global markets.

In this interview staff writer, Francis Kajubi talks to Tanzania Coffee Board’s acting director general, Professor Jamal Adam who explains more on the subject, excerpts:

What do you describe the extend of organic farming in the country and particularly coffee?

To begin with, let me explain that the term organic means anything that is grown free from chemical fertilisers, pesticides or any other artificial additives. This includes almost every crop, fruits or vegetable but also drinks and meat.

In the case of organic coffee, there are no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals used in its cultivation which means cleaner beans free from chemicals with access to natural air, soil and water. The coffee is applied with only organic fertilizers, like coffee pulp, chicken manure, or compost. For coffee, at least 95 percent of the beans have to be grown under organic conditions for it to qualify as organic.

Tanzania Coffee Board’s acting director general, Professor Jamal Adam.

How are consumers’ health guaranteed when they consumer organic coffee compared to conventional coffee?

The biggest benefit to consumers’ health is that they don’t consume any artificial chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides or industrial fertilizers when taking organic coffee which is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. As the soil is free from damaging chemicals, it is much healthier and full of natural nutrients become ingredients of the beans.

Organic coffee is also good for the environment as the soil used to grow the trees benefits for not being in contact with artificial fertilisers. In general, the environment surrounding organic farms benefits from absence of chemicals. As coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, organic farming has a huge positive impact on global heath and the environment.

How is the board overseeing certification of organic coffee?

Organic certification is a long process that ensures the right practices are continually followed. In most of the consuming countries, it is illegal to advertise a product as organic without getting the correct certification. It can take up to two years to get full certification of an organic product because of the thorough application and inspection process. Once farmers have obtained an organic certificate, it only lasts for one year after which another inspection is needed before certification.

What is the current market share for local and global organic coffee?

In 2019/20 Tanzania produced 583 tons of certified mild Arabica organic coffee worth over U$2.8 million while at the same time we also produced 22,545 tons of non-certified mild Arabica worth over U$52.2 million. We also produced 155 tons of certified hard Arabica worth U$299,303 against 517 tons of non-certified worth U$757,329.

Tanzania produced 745 tons of certified Robusta coffee worth over U$1.3 million against 18,683 tons of non-certified valued at over U$24.3 million. The prices for certified mild Arabica was U$4.82 per kilogram while non-certified fetched U$2.19/kg. Certified hard Arabica fetched U$1.93/kg against U$1.47/kg for non-certified. Certified Robusta was sold at U$1.80/kg versus U$1.30/kg of non-certified. In total certified coffee is 3.43 percent of the total coffee produced in Tanzania which was 1,483 tons worth over U$4.45million. The global organic coffee market was valued at U$7.5 billion in 2018 and is forecasted to reach U$18.35 billion by 2027.

What strategies has TCB put in place to ensure growth of organic coffee farming?

The board is responsible to set an agenda on how to position organic agriculture in political discourse like lobbying in favour because of environmental and health benefits, issues that are ignored by political elites who make decisions. The board is now developing a new strategy that will put actions to show that organic coffee production and the business activities can create real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities.

What challenges are you experiencing in mobilising organic coffee farming?

Cost is by far the largest obstacle facing farmers especially the process of certification. Farmers are responsible for the cost of inspection, which includes travel, hotel and food expenses of certifying auditors, as well as annual certification fees. This effectively puts organic certification out of reach of many small-scale farmers unless they are part of a cooperative, in which case certifying costs can be split among members.

It’s easy to see why organic coffee costs more versus coffee of the same quality that isn’t certified as organic. The cost of certification, the additional labour needed and all the extra work that goes into maintaining traceability all adds up. However, the price differential for organic coffee is fair because producing organic coffee is more expensive than conventional coffee.

Besides the burden of certification and the additional labour associated with organic farming, there are other challenges such as a bio diverse, organic farm could be healthier and more resilient in the long term than a technified, full sun coffee farm, but it’s difficult to quantify that resiliency.

Will organic agriculture serve the nation’s industrialization agenda?

Yes, however, it will take some time due to mainstreaming processes along the value chain together with the increase in internal coffee consumption.

What is the way forward for organic farming in Tanzania?

It’s becoming a promising trend for both the producers and consumers. Producers through cooperatives in the country can earn substantially in producing organically grown coffees and the trend is rapidly growing.