Our trip to Malawi (final part)

On Thursday morning we achieved to have an appointment with Mr Harrison B. Kalua, CEO of Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union (MCPCU) that comprises five primary Coffee Cooperatives and became effective on 1st April 2007. The decision to form Cooperatives was made by Coffee Growers after consultation meetings that took place between Government through the Privatization Commission and Coffee farmers.

MCPCU took over the responsibilities of the Smallholder Coffee Farmers Trust (SCFT), which operated from 1st April 1999 as a transitional organization charged with responsibilities of managing transformation process of building capacity among farmer organizations, revitalizing coffee development and initiating crop diversification programs. From 1999 to 2007 SCFT made good progress because of grower’s commitment, financial support from EU Stabex programme,  Government support for the industry and prudent governance and management of the Board and Management.

As a farmer based organisation, SCFT was able to organize and service farmers at village level (business centre), sectional level (business zone), and extension planting areas level (association). Mr. Kalua’s vision is to create both  income and food security for rural farmers in Malawi through member based organisations. MCPCU will promote, process and market the high quality Arabica coffee through farmers owned and managed businesses. Mzuzu Coffee is grown by almost 4.000 Malawian smallholder farmers in the North of Malawi. Flowering starts in October, ripening in April and harvesting is between May and October.

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Farmers are free to sell their coffee and to make profit. Trusts try to pay farmers a fair price ranging from 60 to 80% of the export price realised, provided farmers are delivering the highest quality. On the international market Mzuzu coffee is well known in Switzerland, Netherlands, UK, USA, Germany, South Africa and Japan. On the domestic market it is a popular product in hotels and restaurants and groceries. After a round tour on the plant we drunk a TRUE SINGLE ORIGIN COFFEE FROM THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA.

Friday morning we met Sander Donker, Managing Director of Cheetah (Malawi) Limited and also our project board member. Cheetah is now rather focusing on international trade than extension activities. Cheetah is market leader on the Malawian Paprika (Capsicum annuum) output and is supplied by thousands of smallholder farmers and trying to pay them a fair price to keep farmers motivated to have paprika as their cash crop. Cheetah preferably works with farmers growing paprika of approx 0.8 ha and achieving an average yield of 1.100 kg, worth $800. Cheetah recognizes four grades  of quality, depending the colour of the production. A is the highest level and its colour is dark maroon without damages; D is the lowest level and its colour is red without mould. So (again) the key success factor is the education level of the farmers. Therefore Sander’s recommendation is to spread education wide by training the trainers. He also advised to invest (non-) government subsidies, like EU Stabex, into rural education programmes.

After having evaluated the whole week with Wim, the prevailing feeling was to have invested one week on our project that was more revealing than anything we learned from interviews, documents, reports and papers. We left Malawi with a lot of impressions to digest further at home. Indeed, a once in a life time experience.

Gerard Adriaanse, Rob Jonkman, Henk Keizer, Gerard van Kilsdonk en Robert Mares.