Here are a few snapshots from Georgina's recent visit to Malawi.
Community members participating in a pump maintenance training facilitated by our partner Pump Aid in Beni Village, Mchinji District, Malawi
A basic handwashing facility constructed by the community with support from Pump Aid in Yohani Village, Mchinji District, Malawi
Children having fun in Pembamayo Village, Mchinji District, Malawi
Community celebration in Kang'oma Village, Lilongwe District, Malawi with partner Global Hope Mobilization
Women's self-help group meeting at Kang'oma Village, Lilongwe District in Malawi with partner Global Hope Mobilization
A renovated water pump in Kiwalo Village, Kumponda Traditional Authority, Blantrye District in Malawi with partner Action For Environmental Sustainability (AFES)
With support from Vibrant Village Foundation, Eco-Agric is training 30 young Ugandan women in catering and hairdressing this year. Most of the students in this vocational program had dropped out of school and are now bolstering their marketable skills thanks to this initiative.
Karen Kijaru, a 23-year-old from Kitukutwe village in southern Uganda, started the program in October and had the idea to start a cake business.
Karen rented an oven and starting baking Christmas cakes to sell during the holiday season. Word about her business spread quickly and much to her surprise, the cakes were wildly popular. When Karen received the first 120,000 Uganda Shillings (UGX), or $40, from her cake business, her initial reaction was, “Oh my, I didn’t know I could do something productive.” With the profit from her first batch of cakes, Karen bought milk and clothes for her three-year-old child and paid her bills.
In the New Year, Karen’s customers continued to request cakes, which she sells for UGX 80,000 each ($26). The cakes are large, with decorated icing sugar and can serve over 60 people for birthdays and big parties. Since December, she has earned UGX 320,000 ($107).
Karen has ambitions to grow her business, but her biggest challenge is saving enough to purchase her own oven. Currently Karen rents an oven, which is costly. Having her own oven would not only save her money but give her more flexibility and control with her business, which is important for a young entrepreneur.
Eco-Agric is looking for ways to help purchase a communal oven and identify a space that would benefit Karen and others in needs of kitchen facilities for their catering businesses. Several other participants of the vocational program are interested in making bread, mandazi (fried donuts) and other items that can be sold in the local market.
Despite her short-term success, Karen recognizes the need to be patient as she stewards her new business but she is enthusiastic about the road ahead.
Approaching the small villages of Santa María Yucuhiti municipality by car, a one-lane dirt road dips and curves around a landscape of trees with moss beards. At 5,600 feet, the region is a place ripe for coffee production—one of the principal productive activities of the people who live here. The municipality is home to Mixteca Specialty Coffee (or Café maa va’a nuu Ñuu Savi, in the local Mixtec language), a project supported by Vibrant Village Foundation.
Coffee producers check their cupping scores.
Sunday, February 22nd marked the Second Annual Mixteca Alta Specialty Coffee Competition in the village of Reyes Llano Grande. This village of approximately 300 people is today a hive of activity, with over 100 attendees, three times the attendance last year. Producers, buyers, coffee aficionados and the press arrive from neighboring villages and cities as far as Oaxaca, over 6 hours’ drive, to participate in the event.
The gathering marks a second year of tremendous work for the Specialty Coffee project, which, under the guidance of Director Dr. Karen Rasmussen, is benefitting local coffee producers in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Southern México. The Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project offers training in the cultivation, harvest and processing of specialty coffee to producers from marginalized villages where indigenous families live and work. The goal of the project is to increase the quality and quantity of coffee to increase prices, sales and overall household income for growers and their families.
Coffee buyers tasting local coffee.
While Mexico hosts the Cup of Excellence, an international specialty coffee competition, a regional event such as this one had never been held in Mexico in such remote, indigenous communities before the Specialty Coffee Project arrived.
Clemente Santiago Paz, an agricultural engineer and coffee production consultant explained, “The minimum volume requirements, as well as registration costs for national and state coffee competitions are a real obstacle for small producers, like the ones in this region.” This regional competition has a lower minimum coffee requirement for a coffee producer — 40 kilos in comparison to 172.5 kilos and is held locally, which makes it more feasible for producers to attend.
Coffee growers discuss the results of the competition.
In addition to the increased accessibility for small producers, the Mixteca Alta Competition affords producers and buyers an opportunity for direct exchange. Producers have the chance to promote their coffee with the public, and have conversations with buyers. Carlos, a buyer from Oaxaca commented, “A coffee’s origin is really important in the industry. This project as a whole, and especially this event, has created a stronger and friendlier relationship between buyers and producers, as well as between producers in the region.”
A coffee grower and buyer signing their first sales contract.
That direct contact adds up to higher prices for quality coffee, and relationships that ensure producers have access to a valuable market for the long-term. Knowing the story behind a kilo of coffee helps buyers sell to their clients and promote the Mixteca Alta region as a place where specialty coffee is grown.
According to Abigail González, another local buyer, “Having a direct relationship also allows us to ensure that the higher value we are paying for quality goes directly into the hands of the producer, and not to an intermediary.”
3rd place winner Marciano Filogonio Aparicio Lopez with his certificate and prize money.
The winner this year is Onesimo Elias García Pérez from the community of San Isidrio Paz y Progreso. In a short speech he explained, “Our coffee is ignored by the industry. Thank God for this competition. It inspires us to keep going. And that’s what we need—something to inspire us to continue to improve.”
The second place scorer for Female Coffee, Florencia Heriberta López García, says with a smile, “I am so happy seeing my score. I’m aiming for even higher next year. I will push myself, or die in the attempt!” She is 78 years old.
Coffee growing women placed well at the competition too.
According to Paz, “The event represents an emotional and economic acknowledgement for these producers and the region. I see the great satisfaction of the producers to have this space to recognize their efforts and highlight their coffee. It is a strong motivator for producers to continue improving the quality of their coffee.”