On a small coffee farm in southern Ethiopia, 45-year-old Fedila Hussein smiles as she surveys her life’s work. She and her husband, Mustafa Tesfaye, have been growing coffee on their 0.5-hectare plot for almost three decades. When Mustafa first inherited the land from his father in 1991, he did not know all of the challenges that lay ahead.
Like many other smallholder coffee farmers, one of their main concerns was low yields from their coffee trees. Over the years, the trees produced fewer and fewer coffee cherries. Coffee was the family’s primary source of income, and eventually, their yields were so low that they could no longer cover the basic expenses of their family of six.
In East Africa, there are more than 5 million coffee farmers. Like Fedila and Mustafa, the majority of them own fewer than two hectares of land. For these families, coffee represents a pathway out of poverty, but many farmers struggle with unpredictable yields and low prices for their harvests.
Read about coffee’s journey from East Africa to your cup.
Better Farm Practices Lead to Better Yields for Coffee Farmers
In 2013, Fedila and Mustafa joined TechnoServe’s Coffee Farm College training program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the program, farmers learned techniques to improve their coffee quality and quantity.
One of those techniques was stumping, a process that involves cutting back old coffee trees to encourage new growth. Stumping can ensure that older trees remain healthy and productive, but it is often difficult to convince farmers to adopt this practice, as their yields will temporarily decrease while the trees grow back.
“In 2013, even if I attended the training strictly, I was doubtful about adopting the practices, especially to stump the old coffee trees,” Mustafa admits. Despite recommendations from their farmer trainer, they didn’t stump any of their trees during the first year of the training.
But when they saw a dramatic yield increase on a neighbor’s farm, they changed their minds. The couple stumped 764 trees in 2014, 645 trees in 2015, and 400 trees in 2016. “I didn’t know how to make the coffee trees productive again,” Mustafa says. “[But], thanks to TechnoServe, the trainers showed me the way.”
Mustafa and Fedila also learned other good agricultural practices for their coffee farm.
As Mustafa explains,
“I prepared and applied compost to the stumped coffee trees. This makes the coffee tree grow strong and healthy, which helped me get a much higher yield.”
Before the training with TechnoServe, the family’s coffee production was so low, at about 200 kg (440 lbs) of coffee cherries, that Fedila could harvest the entire farm herself. Now, almost eight years later, Mustafa and Fedila are harvesting 4,700 kg (10,360 lbs) of coffee cherries, a 23-fold increase. This increase in farm productivity has transformed their daily lives.
For many of us, coffee means a brighter morning. For the farmers who grow it, coffee means better healthcare, education, and opportunity for their families.
This International Coffee Day, 10/1, learn about sustainability challenges from top experts in the coffee industry–and how you can support farmers and sustainability.
Income From Coffee Transforms Lives
Instead of picking all the coffee herself, Fedila now has three permanent staff who help with the coffee farm. The staff also take care of their three Holstein cows –– another purchase made possible by their coffee income.
Before the training, they had just one cow, which “like the coffee, didn’t give any yields, ” Fedila described. Their new cows are so productive that the couple has been able to sell milk to a local milk processing company regularly.
With the additional income from their coffee harvest, Mustafa and Fedila constructed a sturdy new home with a corrugated iron roof. Before, they were living in a small house with a grass roof. They have also purchased a TV and new furniture for their home, including beds and chairs.
Before, we used to sleep on the floor, but now we have a comfortable bed. Even the cows have a comfortable place to sleep!— Mustafa Tesfaye, coffee farmer, Ethiopia
Their entire family has benefited from the coffee income. Recently, Mustafa and Fedila paid for two of their children to attend a local university. One son is now a doctor at a nearby hospital, and the other is the HR manager at the same hospital. Their family of six has also grown, as they decided to adopt three orphans.
Explore interactive maps of Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests:
Sharing Knowledge Brings Prosperity to Coffee Farmers
Mustafa and Fedila plan to continue applying the skills and practices they learned through the program and increase the amount of land they have under coffee cultivation. They are also considering other income-generating opportunities and plan to buy additional cows to increase the volume of milk they supply to the milk processing company.
In fact, adapting this one new farming technique has yielded such excellent results for the couple that Agrilinks recently featured their success story of tripling crop yields through stumping, seven years later:
“Not every farmer will experience yield increases of quite that magnitude, but they can expect to triple the yield from any coffee tree they stump.
This would have a transformational impact in Ethiopia, where low yields trap many farming families in a damaging cycle of declining incomes, underinvestment and shrinking farm size.
But not every farmer has a neighbor like Fedila and Mustafa’s to inspire them.”
“Nowadays, other non-trained friends come to ask us for advice,” Fedila says. “Nuredin, one of my husband’s friends who lives in a neighboring district, came to our house and was very much impressed by our changes. He asked us the secret behind our success.
We told him it was the training we received from TechnoServe that changed our lives. They taught us how to stump the old, unproductive trees, and we accepted their advice and applied it to our farms. So now prosperity is flowing into our life like a river, and he decided to stump his old coffee trees like ours.”
Learn more about how you can support smallholder farmers and environmental sustainability: