We are in Year 5 of the coffee program and have added 25 more farmers in 6 new villages, bringing our total farmers to about 225 across 14 villages. They planted 45,000 coffee seedlings this year!
Our Program Director, Parshu Dahal says, “I’m very excited about coffee and macadamias. Farmers have started to get significant economic benefit from coffee and when they saw macadamia nuts growing on the trees this year, they were really excited and started to believe that this can be a viable alternative to traditional food grains. That has encouraged them to be devoted in their farm work.”
COVID created some transportation challenges this year during harvest collection. Nepal’s nationwide lockdown in March/April was much stricter than in the US, and vehicles were not permitted to be driven…even jeeps on the dirt roads of remote villages. The limited transportation meant our staff had to be very resourceful about collection of coffee farmer’s harvest. We collect their coffee parchment to help farmers so that they do not have to manage market linkages directly nor travel away from their fields and livestock. We also standardize the price and offer payment up front. This means that prices are firm and farmers do not need to wait months for payment (when the coffee is finally dried and sold). In the spring, we managed to collect about two-thirds of the harvest, which was ~1000kg. An additional 500kg was sold directly by farmers. They were able to get the same price per kg as we were paying because we had informed them what the standard price should be. We plan to have our collection system fully back in place for the harvest next year.
While production levels are still low as plants continue to mature, farmers are already beginning to earn meaningful income. This year, the total revenue of more than 40 farmers with mature bushes was $8500. In an area where annual cash income is generally less than $1000 per person, this is a significant addition to family income…and will continue to grow as more and more plants mature.
We have 13 Farmers Groups organized and registered now, and this year their 13 nurseries held anywhere between 200 – 12,000 seedlings each, depending on how isolated/populated their village area is. Parshu effectively worked with the local government to get an additional 5 manual pulping machines donated to the program and these are spread out across different areas. We plan to use manual pulpers for 3-5 more years until the volume of production is high enough for some more serious machinery.
In early February, just before COVID lockdowns started, we sponsored Parshu to attend a coffee basic skills course in Kathmandu offered by the international Specialty Coffee Association. Parshu was a high-achiever as usual and earned 95% on the final exam. The institute said that it was the highest score anyone has ever received on the final exam in the 5+ years that the course has been offered in Nepal! We’re proud as ever to have a superstar program director—Parshu shows up 100% in everything he does!
In 2021, we are shifting our focus from nurseries/plant care to processing quality. Now that farmers are skilled at how to take cuttings and reliably grow saplings in nurseries, as well as caring for maturing plants, our coffee priority is to be IMPROVING QUALITY. Feedback from the buyers this year indicated that quality is inconsistent: parchment varies in color, moisture level, outer skin removal, and other important benchmarks. That’s expected, but it’s time to get much more specific about the exact standards of quality farmers need to be meeting and how to get there.
CLN’s goal is to offer a 5-day training for 50 farmers about maintaining quality: proper harvesting, washing, and drying of the coffee cherries. We want to bring an internationally certified Nepali expert from Kathmandu to deliver a more intensive processing training than we have done in the past. The cost for the instructor and all 50 participants for 5 days is USD $5000.
Also as part of a focus on quality improvement, we want to take 10 Lead Farmers to visit two established coffee farms in Nepal, tour their processing units, and learn about their procedures with a focus on processing techniques and set ups for better quality ($4000). The last exposure visit that we sponsored in January 2019 was to provide farmers an opportunity to see a well managed coffee farm, good nursery, coffee market, taste coffee, and know basic things about processing. The visit was a huge success, inspiring our farmers. When farmers can see with their own eyes how other farms are working, they come home motivated to improve and believing that it’s possible in their own farming communities. They share their excitement and stories with all the farmers around them which supports the momentum of CLN’s project.
The coffee project entails continual support of individual farmers and the cooperative Farmers Groups, as well as facilitation with local government for support and planning/executing on strategic initiatives for the future. Our longer-term vision is to build a central processing unit in 2025/2026. Towards this end, we are discussing with all the groups about location, searching for appropriate land, and hoping to purchase land in the coming year so that we can start to determine the appropriate machines and process. Annual costs to keep the coffee project running are about $18,000, and we benefit more than 225 families, which is well over $1000 people—an investment of $18 per person. We are excited to be developing an industry that can help support these families for years to come!