Naturland has been assisting the Burundian coffee co-operative federation COCOCA since 2014 in converting two primary co-operatives to organic coffee production.
The pilot scheme, which is being run in close co-operation with WeltPartner eG with funding from the German province of Baden-Württemberg, has now been expanded to include 17 grassroots co-operatives which will be receiving ongoing technical and scientific support.
The predominant growing conditions in 2014 were far removed from the diversified agroforestry system required under the Naturland standards, because for many years in Burundi, it was not permitted to plant other trees on coffee plantations. Although it is now permitted again, a great deal of traditional knowledge has been lost over the years. For this reason, conversion to coffee cultivation under shade trees to comply with the high Naturland standards for sustainability requires the provision of intensive advisory services and all the stakeholders need to be commited, especially the local smallholders’ families. Besides providing both co-operatives with technical advice, Naturland has also provided assistance in establishing an internal inspection system. Furthermore, a good relationship with the important national players in the Burundi coffee industry has been built up over time, with the aim of gaining their support for this organic initiative.
The University of Applied Forest Sciences (Hochschule für Forstwirtschaft) in Rottenburg, Germany, and the agricultural faculty of Burundi University are also on board with the new project, which started in 2019 and will probably last until June, 2022. As part of this applied research project, their main objective is to provide support and advice on establishing and developing agroforestry systems. The experience gained from co-operating with the two initial grassroots co-operatives in the organic sector is now to be applied to a further 15 COCOCA co-operatives. Besides this, the agricultural advisory services provided by COCOCA are to be expanded, with particular emphasis on practical advisory methods, farmer field schools and the creation of demonstration sites. Ten more agricultural advisers are to be employed for this purpose.
Naturland continues to assist in the project by providing advice on converting to organic in order to facilitate a change from coffee farming as a monocrop to sustainable and varied mixed cropping within an agroforestry system. This means that the coffee is grown as part of mixed crop alongside, for example, banana, citrus and other fruit trees or timber trees, thereby increasing the productivity of small farms. The farmers harvest not only coffee but also fruit and other products such as timber and firewood, for their own use or for sale on local markets. This improves food security and generates additional income. The rich variety of plants and trees helps to protect the soil, enhances its fertility by creating additional humus, reduces soil erosion and stores nutrients and water in the soil more efficiently. Such sophisticated cultivation systems also reduce pest and disease pressure, and in the current era of climate extremes these multi-faceted services are becoming ever more important. A further challenge when converting to organic cultivation is to keep control over the coffee bug which infests the coffee beans with a bacterium. The result is not just a drop in coffee yields but also that one single bad bean can later spoil the quality of a whole batch of coffee. COCOCA and its farmers are experimenting jointly with various plant extracts to see if they can be used to keep the coffee bug in check. Naturland is providing technical support.
Research and expansion work providing mutual support
The new scientific monitoring and advisory services that are being provided to the project are a huge bonus. So far there has been little comprehensive scientific research capable of supplying proof to back up general claims with concrete empirical data. Besides this, accompanying scientific research provides a unique opportunity to evaluate scientific data relating to establishing an agroforestry system from the very beginning. The research content of the university is very promising, as well as being useful for COCOCA, the coffee growers and Naturland in general. The research focuses on how coffee cultivation in agroforestry systems affects soil fertility, water balance, pest infestation and the farmers’ families.
This also enables statements to be made about the impact of such a project on the food security of the participating smallholder families and the added value it contributes to the local economy, as well as identifying possible secondary effects. Furthermore, it helps to expand and consolidate the current recommendations on the best crops to plant.