An abundant coffee harvest begins with good trees. Unfortunately, in the Cameroonian village of Oku, most of the trees are 20 to 40 years old. Trees of this age aren’t nearly as productive as younger trees. It is estimated that the old trees in Oku yield only 25% of younger trees’ potential.
Another problem facing the coffee trees in Cameroon, and many other areas of the coffee-producing world, is a disease called “coffee rust.” The American Phytopathological Society states that coffee rust is “the most economically important coffee disease in the world.” It’s a fungus that attacks the leaves of coffee trees, causing them to fall off. The fewer leaves a plant has, the less photosynthetic capacity it has. Since photosynthesis is a primary source of nutrition for plants, trees infected with coffee rust are weakened. The disease results in lower yields in subsequent harvest seasons due to poor tree nutrition. Cameroonian farmers lose up to 40% of their yields to coffee rust.
So, many farmers are taking away 60% of a yield from a crop that yields only 25% of its former potential. Farmers have a lot to gain from younger, healthier trees. The Mocha Joe’s team took our first, small steps toward addressing this issue in 2012, when Kevin (former manager of the organic project) and Philip (our agronomist and Director of Operations in Cameroon) planted a nursery that yielded 5,000 trees, which will be distributed to farmers in 2014. In the meantime, we distributed 2,500 young trees obtained from another nursery. While this number of trees is not enough to replace every old tree on our partners’ farms, it will give many farmers a good start toward increasing their yields. We will be planting 25,000 trees in 2014, which will be distributed the following year. Philip is training some of the farmers we work with to run the nursery.
The trees that are planted in the nursery aren’t only young; they’re resistant to coffee rust. The trees should reach the point of maturity needed to start producing coffee within the next couple of years, bringing more money to farmers and more coffee to the market.