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Technoserve - The Coffee Initiative

In these last few months working on my project, a quite impressive Organizations I came across with was Technoserve. This article tells a little bit more about their Coffee Initiative Project and shares an interview I had the opportunity to conduct with Carl Cervone, their Strategic Initiatives Director.


TechnoServe is a nonprofit organization operating in more than 30 countries; they work with enterprising men and women in the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses and industries. By linking people to information, capital and markets, they have helped millions to create lasting prosperity for their families and communities.



The Coffee Initiative: is a project launched by TechnoServe in 2008 with the aim to increase the incomes of 182,000 smallholder coffee farmers in East Africa. For this initiative they received a four-year, $47-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project was structured in three specific and integrated strategies:


1- Farm College: With the aim to increase productivity through Agronomy Training, the Farm colleges were stablished to provide proper agricultural practices, such as the application of fertilizer and the pruning or rejuvenation of coffee trees, which are essential to boosting productivity. Aligned with the crop cycle, monthly lessons in the Farm College included: mulching, weeding, pruning, rejuvenation, erosion control, shade management, composting, nutrition, integrated pest management, safe use of pesticides and record keeping.


2- Supporting the Establishment of Cooperative Wet Mills: The wet mill is the place where cherry is pulped (outer skin removed) using a machine, the beans are fermented to break down a sticky mucilage layer, washed in water and then sorted and dried on raised tables under full sunlight for up to two weeks until they reach an ideal moisture level. Coffee is then transported from rural wet mills to town where a dry mill removes a thin parchment layer using a hulling machine. Resulting in the green coffee; final stage before export. Usually, producers in East Africa used to sell their coffee without this final step, so supporting the processing facilities was fundamental to aggregate value to their product.


3- Building a stronger Coffee Value Chain: A successful coffee value chain has sufficient agronomic expertise to achieve consistently high yields, adequate wet-milling capacity and expertise for operating the wet mills efficiently, access to finance both for working capital and capital investments at reasonable rates and marketing services to dry mill and export the coffee. In Rwanda, the Coffee Initiative designed and implemented a new Coffee Service Provider model in which private export companies provide wet mills with fee-based services.


Questions: (Answered by Carl Cervone)


Is access to finance and increase in productivity the most important factors for development in coffee producing regions?

Increasing productivity is certainly a major issue for many of the world’s farmers, particularly in places like Africa, Central America and Indonesia. It is probably not the biggest problem for places like Brazil and Vietnam, where the bigger issues are related to things like pests and water management respectively.


How are the projects sponsored?

There are three types of sponsors: 1- Philanthropic (like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), 2- Corporate donors (e.g. coffee roasters) and 3- Public Private Partnerships (e.g. between the US Government and a coffee roaster).


What about specialty roasters?

In East Africa the project also focused on quality increase so TechnoServe was able to create a linkage between these Roasters and producers. Many specialty roasters were able to work directly with cooperatives and find really unique coffees.


What is the biggest challenge for the success of cooperatives?

Management. When new sources of money are involved it is always challenging to avoid things like corruption and to implement good systems for things like governance, quality control and labor management.


What are the biggest challenges to make farmers adopt the best practices?

We work at scale, reaching tens of thousands of new farmers each year, in many regions. So, the first challenge is to make sure all trainings provided are delivered effectively and consistently everywhere we go. The second big challenge is time. Coffee is an annual crop, so we only get one shot each year. Most project trainings last for two years so it is challenging to encourage all farmers to adopt and see the benefits for themselves during such a short time period.


Do you use the same model for all producing regions?

Some actions are standard in every region we work in, for example, how we organize groups of farmers, how we recruit and train local trainers, and how we collect data for monitoring and evaluation. But we also have a specific, custom-made Curriculum for every region, depending on what the needs are.


What is TechnoServe’s position towards certification?

We are agnostic when it comes to preferring one certification over another. Our training includes many of the good practices that are required for certification, but we do not push farmers to get certified. Farmers should go for it if they see a business case for it.





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