Organic Farming in Cameroon
Obtaining Organic Certification is a laborious and expensive process. Many farmers implement organic farming practices without obtaining certification due to prohibitive costs and stringent record-keeping requirements. For others, transitioning from conventional to organic practices requires a whole new way of doing their work.
There are plenty of good reasons to undergo the process. Farmers already practicing organic methods benefit financially from the ability to place a “Certified Organic” label on their product, which increases its price point significantly.
Farmers transitioning from conventional to organic practices stand to gain more than just higher prices for their coffee. Organic guidelines tend to foster more sustainable farms and communities. One of the main tenets of organic farming is using only natural, non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Farmers must come up with efficient ways to give plants the nutrients and protection from insects they need. The farmers in Cameroon are currently receiving training in new methods of erosion control, which helps prevent runoff that sweeps nutrients away from the crops. They are also beginning to bolster their community’s economy; instead of purchasing conventional fertilizers and pesticides from far-off companies, organic farmers are encouraged to put money into their community by using locally-sourced manure and botanical pesticides.
In order to qualify for certification, farms need to be free of prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years. For the farmers who were already practicing organic farming methods, certification was a matter of scheduling inspections and learning a record-keeping system. Philip, the Director of Operations for Mocha Joe’s in Cameroon, and Kevin, who worked under Philip and managed the Organic Certification project, have been lending support to transitioning farmers. Kevin was happy to report in early 2013 that farmers who had been in the program for as little as 10 months were beginning to help train newer participants.
In the spring of 2013, the first ever Certified Organic coffee was shipped out of Cameroon. Forty-six farmers received certification, producing a total of two-and-a-half tons of organic coffee in the 2012-2013 harvest season. This year, the harvest will be closer to five tons. With 34 more farmers in the program working toward certification, we hope to purchase eight tons of Certified Organic coffee from Cameroon in 2015.
Organic farming goes beyond getting a certificate renewed each year. Without the use of common, effective but toxic pesticides, farmers face a constant challenge concerning pest control that requires creativity and research tenacity. One of Kevin’s main roles in Cameroon has been problem-solving. He has forged a number of connections in the region for finding local sources of natural pesticides and manures to combat the various disease and nutritional problems appearing on the coffee crops.
In the beginning of 2014, Kevin began training Jude, a native Cameroonian with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science, to take his place. The long-term goal of the organic program is for the farmers to independently take it over. The inspection fees alone total $4,800 for the entire project, a cost that is not currently possible for the farmers to meet. Mocha Joe’s has made a commitment to offer our support to our partners in Cameroon until they have the resources to take over the program.
A Very Special Meeting
When Pierre visited Cameroon in January 2014, a meeting took place for farmers in the organic program. This meeting was a first step toward developing a sense of community, pride and shared culture among the organic farmers in Cameroon. Eighty farmers were in attendance, and 46 received their Organic Certificates.
Getting the famers into one place wasn’t the only “first” that the meeting brought about: Coffee was served! Ironically, people in coffee-producing countries often don’t drink much, if any, coffee themselves. The fruits of their labor are bagged up and sold to far-off places, with only the poorest-quality product remaining in the region. At the organic farmer’s meeting, Pierre and team roasted and brewed Cameroonian coffee for the farmers. This was the first time many of them had tasted the results of their hard work.
Kevin was happy to report that, since the farmer gathering, eight farmers so far have started roasting and drinking their own coffee.