Water Wise Coffee: Creating a More Sustainable Future in Ethiopia

April 22, 2015

TechnoServe is partnering with major coffee companies to clean polluted rivers in Ethiopia’s Sidama region. Find out how you can get involved!

Coffee and water are both central to Elfe Gobe’s livelihood. The 38-year-old mother of five grows coffee and food crops on her one-acre farm in Ethiopia’s Sidama zone. Her coffee income helps cover the costs of school fees, clothing for her children and other necessities.

The wet mill where Elfe assists in processing and drying coffee sits on the bank of the Kola River, the main water source for more than 20,000 people in the area. Since early childhood, the river has been central to Elfe’s life.

“Water sustains life for all human beings, but the lives of women are especially tied to water,” she says. “I go to the river every weekend to wash clothes and bathe my children.”

For years, wet mills in the village would discharge the byproducts of coffee processing – wastewater and pulp – directly into the Kola. When Elfe first started working at the wet mill, a foul smell pervaded the surrounding area, and the pollution made the Kola’s water hazardous. Elfe often made long trips to find clean drinking water for her livestock, and she worried about the health of her children.

Water Wise Coffee, a sustainability program led by Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee and Marley Coffee – and administered by TechnoServe – is changing that. We are working with wet mill owners along the Kola and Malabo Rivers to implement a low-cost, sustainable solution: the creation of vetiver grass wetlands.

The pulp from the coffee cherries is first separated from the wastewater and prepared as compost, which the local farmers can use on their crops. The wastewater then flows into the wetlands, where it is sucked up by the vetiver grass’s deep roots. Any remaining water is stored in a small pond at the bottom of the wetland to evaporate.

The program has already installed vetiver grass wetlands at 26 wet mills, including the mill where Elfe works. “Now, I haven’t seen any wastewater discharged into the river,” she says. “I hope all wet mills in the village will do the same.”

With your help, we can make that hope a reality. Today, on Earth Day, Water Wise Coffee is unveiling a new campaign where supporters like you can get involved. Together, we can convert more wet mills in the Sidama coffee region, improving the water quality for families who depend on the river and promoting sustainability in the coffee industry.

Contribute to Water Wise Coffee today and help us create a more sustainable future!