Key findings in our latest report 'Smallholders & Specialty'

Posted by Richard Anstead on 23 April 2018

Twin have recently published a thought provoking Smallholders & Specialty report looking at how organised smallholder African coffee and cocoa farmers are accessing the highest value markets. In this blog post Richard Anstead, our Managing Director, shares his thoughts on the key findings in the report.

Smallholders Specialty

Having worked with smallholder farmers for over 30 years Twin recognised the sudden rise in demand for specialty coffee and cocoa over the last two decades has presented small holder farmers with the opportunity to unlock more value from their products. By offering a way out from the volatility of the commodity market, and an opportunity to forge long-term relationships across the value chain, specialty production can provide farmers with more secure, sustainable livelihoods. Through high value coffee farmers have an opportunity to play an active role in the social, environmental, and economic development of their own communities.

But across the sector, from farmers through to coffee roasters and bean-to-bar chocolate makers, we know this process is far more complex than it might appear.  For instance, what does it take for a smallholder cooperative in sub-Saharan Africa, facing multiple contextual challenges – such as limited power and knowledge of the market, being in a remote location, changing climate, political instability and limited access to finance – to succeed in producing and exporting the highest quality coffee and cocoa?  On top of this we also need to think about how these challenges can be overcome, and to what extent is it possible to overcome them completely?

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 Buyers and Twin listening to the women of Ejo Heza telling their stories nears the new plot near the Nyagatare washing station

The report, Small Holders & Speciality, focuses on four cases studies, Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union (BJCU) in Uganda, Muungano in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kopskama in Rwanda and Goleagorbu Cocoa Producers Organisations in Sierra Leone and details their transition to speciality production.

We identified four strong and common themes running through each of our case studies;

Strong membership engagement and ownership – Engagement with and ownership of organisations and its strategy by members has been a crucial success factor. This is essential for the organisation’s success and can have wider benefits on the community as a whole.

Understanding quality and empowering producers within the market – Individual farmers need to understand the importance of quality and its importance. The ability to deliver speciality coffee starts at farm level. Sharing information along the value chain (with buyers making regular visits to origin) helps farmers and their organisation understand how important their role is in the delivery of speciality coffee. And in turn, having the highest quality coffee or cocoa places producer organisations in a strong negotiating position.

Co-investment – Due to the complexity of producing and marketing speciality coffee and cocoa it is often a journey that takes many years. This is especially the case for young cooperatives working in challenging contexts – post conflict, political instability, poor infrastructure and increasingly erratic climate patterns. We found that partners need to think longer term than ‘this season’ or the next two years and work with the organisations vision and long term strategy.

Access to Finance – often cited as the number one challenge for producers, and rightly so. Cooperatives need access to working capital at the right time to buy from their farmer members. Co-ordination amongst partners is critical so organisations are supported to develop business plans and loan applications. Ethical leaders can undertake timely due diligence and buyers pre-season contracts.

Overall, we concluded successful producer organisations coupled with long-term partnerships across the value chain can be a greater catalyst for greater change in rural communities, in gender equity, and in developing a more sustainable agriculture sector that can provide decent livelihoods from producers whilst protecting the environment. Problems and challenges along the journey are inevitable and should be expected. Progress needs to be constantly monitored and analysis must lead to adaptation in order for achievements to be built on and success to be continued.

Rwenzori Ridge Uganda Smallholders Specialty blog by RA

Rwenzori Ridge, Uganda provides the perfect, but remote, conditions for growing coffee

When setting out on a strategy to produce and deliver specialty coffee and cocoa, smallholder farmers and their organisations are embarking on a tough and challenging journey. We believe that there is great potential and that the level of effort required is also great, however the effort can lead to  significant rewards.

You can download the full report here