Passion Pays

Passion Pays

This news is part of the following focus area:
Claudia Van Gool
Claudia Van Gool
External Communication Coordinator

Our farmers are growing old. And truth is, they produce about 80% of our food. 90% of the farms worldwide are run by individual farmers or families, but nowadays it´s difficult to spot a youngster in the field. So, how can farming still be attractive for youngsters?

This was one of the many questions at the Sustainable Food Lab’s Annual Leadership Summit, held in Tanzania last November. VECO, as only Belgian NGO and member of the Sustainable Food Lab (SFL), participated with three of its regional offices based in Belgium, Central and South America. The focus of the summit was on bringing together influential food system leaders to exchange knowledge and different points of view.

During the Learning Journeys that are organized by SFL within these annual summits, SFL brings together a diverse group of business people, academics and NGO´s active in the food industry to witness a variety of projects that have several points in common: sustainable agriculture, innovation, technology, business models and leadership. What we all take back home are key insights, different perspectives and questions to be explored.

Coffee from Tanzania: sexy or not?

The Moshi Kilimanjaro region is one of Tanzania´s well-known areas to grow Arabica coffee and home of the weekly national coffee auction. Coffee cooperative ISUKI and Mese Ngarony Special Coffee Growers Group are two organizations we visited during the Learning Journeys. The organizations are supported by Solidaridad and the Hans Neuman Stiftung in landscape management, policy building and organizational strengthening.

However, we discovered that coffee export has declined by 50% compared to the eighties and that the sector is not a priority anymore for the government. Many of these organizations are facing challenges like lack of infrastructure, affecting on the coffee quality, a low production due to diseases and climate change (increase in temperature and drought), lack of infrastructure for water supply and up to 80 years old coffee trees. Edward Massawe, manager of Tanzania Coffee Farmers Alliance summed it up nicely: “We milk the cow but we don´t feed the cow”. When one of us asked if it was still an attractive sector for their children, the answer was clear: although they have hopes in better coffee varieties and resources like for example water management policies, their children want quick money and therefore are moving to other crops.

A new passion

What they meant with that, became clear the next day during a visit at KIBO Horti Farm Association, a project that is set up by VECO East Africa, Belgium’s biggest supermarket chain Colruyt Group and food importer Special Fruit. VECO understood the exponential potential of Kilimanjaro region all year round climatic conditions which favour fruits and vegetables production as well as its strategic position to major export exit points.

We initiated a pilot project for production of passion fruit in 2013. It mobilised three producer groups that collectively formed KIBO Horti Farm Association. They shifted from farming tomato, cucumber and coffee to passion fruit, intercropping with French beans, cucumber and banana for food security. Passion fruit has been showing a high increase in demand over the past few years and while the organization is getting ready for export requirements, it is already selling all its produce on the local market with a good turnover. It is going to supermarkets, international schools and hotels around the Moshi area.

Being together allows us to do collective marketing and get access to services

Melikiory A. Kimaru 23 year old passion fruit farmer

Membership grew from 30 to 180 farmers and counting. Moreover, 22% of the members is under 35 years old. The shift is clear for them: historically, coffee in Tanzania has been a cash crop out of which you could make a lot of money, but the market has changed. Collective marketing of passion fruit seems to be a good alternative. As Melikiory A. Kimaru, a 23 year old passion fruit farmer, states: “Being together allows us to do collective marketing and get access to services”. His remark was followed by a funny shout-out of one of the older ladies: “Yeah! Passion pays!”. The whole room burst out into laughter.

VECO invests in professionalizing farmer organizations so they are resilient to changes in fluctuating markets. We also build relationships with food companies, supermarkets, catering services and cities to achieve a global change in the food system and mainstream sustainable and inclusive business models. In this way, youth can be engaged in farming and VECO is showcasing this in different regions all over the world.

VECO, pioneer of youth involvement in agriculture

The average age of farmers evolves towards 60 years, and if we want the world to be fed, to keep drinking our morning coffee or eating our favorite chocolate bar, we need to focus on youth within agriculture and making the scenery attractive to them.

VECO is one of the first NGO´s in Peru working with young coffee farmers in the amazon region since 2011 through the funding and implementation of projects as Youca, focussing on quality coffee, cupping and barismo and innovating entrepreneurial ideas around the coffee and cocoa value chain. Ecuador followed in 2014, where we established amongst others a close collaboration with award winning chocolate company Pacari, engaging young cocoa farmers in their fine aromatic cocoa value chain, and in general, giving young farmers a spot inside the farmer organizations. In Honduras and Nicaragua, VECO focuses on access to new markets with higher prices like cocoa for export, and vegetables for supermarkets, and in Indonesia we sent 25 young farmers on a training at MARS Cocoa Academy to become Cacao Doctors, hence ensure the quality standards of buyers.

What is key is that young farmers are creating opportunities within a dynamic market. Therefore, a focus on quality, inclusive business relationships and resilient farmer organizations lie at the heart of our work.