It’s been said that all good things take time, but I don’t think we’ve considered that statement with much regard until now, seven months after our move to Tanzania.
Perhaps it is much easier to come into a third-world country for work when you are simply joining an already established entity with a clear job description and path laid before you. But in our case, we are essentially starting from the ground up. Any forward moving with our work takes time. It is a slow endeavor that depends largely on word of mouth, meeting people, cultivating relationships, and following through when, after learning of our work, we’re told we need to meet someone. And despite our very American (read: driven, fast-paced) selves wanting to make something happen, it is also about allowing things to progress as they may, and waiting it out until we meet the right people.
This past week we had a meeting with one of our neighbors who happens to be a coffee farmer, among other things. The connection the three of us shared was instant. He shared on the reality of what life is like for coffee farmers in this country. And we shared about our hope for After Trade.
It is one thing to be Stateside and develop a concept and theory around a hope for working with coffee farmers in Tanzania. It’s quite another to actually be here, and have our work be not only affirmed, but needed.
We listened as our neighbor, now friend, shared stories. He told of how his father, having grown coffee for fifty years, had never actually tasted his coffee until a couple of years ago, before his death. He explained that when the coffee is processed, the good beans sink, and the bad beans, float. The bad beans are intended to be discarded, but these are the ones that his father, as well as other farmers are able to keep for themselves, which they later dry, roast, grind and drink. A couple of years before his father’s death, our friend took aside some of the good beans and prepared a real cup of coffee for his father. The response was immediate. We were told that his father could not believe that this is what coffee tastes like. He was filled with such joy. In all his years, he had never experienced coffee in such a way. Our friend said that when he thinks of this story, he cries for his father. Farmers remain so dependent upon the coffee demands of the West, that they could not imagine ever tasting the real fruit of their labor. Coffee is a commodity. And the good beans are money.
He told of cooperatives, those that we would like to think are doing good in the community, making it possible for farmers to make a decent wage. There is a huge cooperative located in the Kilimanjaro region, that most of the coffee comes from that is sourced from Tanzania. He said that only 30% of those who are part of this cooperative are actually full-time employees. The remaining seventy percent of people that work with this cooperative are temporary workers, the majority of whom are of those found standing along the sides of main roads that lead further up the mountain, hoping to be selected for a days work. Some of these “coffee farmers” can be found waiting each morning where our dirt road meets the main road. This particular cooperative is still operated by the Germans, and our friend said that if nothing changes soon, then we can expect that over the next several years smallholder coffee farmers will vanish. Many, already, are abandoning their plots as such cooperatives have taken over the face of coffee in this region, leaving little hope for smallholders. This is often what development looks like in the third-world. Smallholders are being pushed out. It is of no coincidence that our hope for smallholder farmers is at the core of what After Trade is all about.
Next month, we have made plans to visit our friend’s village, which is made up of a small community of coffee farmers. We could not be more excited for what the future may hold as we get to know the growers there. Before we departed, he shared with us 500 grams of arabica coffee he roasted from two of the farms in his village.