Coffee in Zimbabwe is almost back to its best, by George
Clooney is a brand ambassador for a programme aimed at restoring coffee farming in regions under threat
With George Clooney’s help, coffee is becoming a pathway out of poverty for Zimbabwean farmers. The former coffee darling of the world, renowned for a brew with a distinctive nutty and chocolate aroma, fell from grace in the early 2000s. In the late 1980s Zimbabwe produced more than 15,000 tons of coffee a year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. But by 2017 farmers produced fewer than 500 tons of coffee a year.
Agricultural economist Midway Bhunu said Zimbabwe was witnessing a “revival in its purest form” due to a new programme aimed at restoring coffee farming in regions under threat. Reviving Origins is part of Swiss company Nespresso’s sustainability programme that includes the launch of single origin coffees from Zimbabwe and Columbia. Clooney is a brand ambassador for the project.
These coffees are rare, virtually unknown, and have been slowly disappearing for decades. SA coffee lovers will be among the first to taste the limited-edition Arabica coffee, Tamuka mu Zimbabwe, grown by farmers in Manicaland, eastern Zimbabwe.
“When we started two years ago, the coffee industry in Zimbabwe was almost collapsing; farmers were moving out of coffee because it wasn’t making sense for them. The few that were active were doing it wrong in terms of agronomic practices and most of the coffee farms were just left abandoned,” Mbunu said.
The Zimbabwean programme began in 2017 and Nespresso has committed to investing $9.8m over the next five years to encourage economic development and boost high-quality coffee production in regions such as Colombia, Zimbabwe and Puerto Rico. The initial Reviving Origins coffees are Tamuka mu Zimbabwe and Esperanza de Colombia from Caquetá, Colombia.
Nespresso brand ambassador Yassir Corpataux explained that due to the decline in the Zimbabwean coffee industry many farmers opted to go into short-cycle crops such as bananas. But the revenues were not consistent.
“We got involved in helping those farmers get back on track regarding sustainability, increasing productivity and increasing production,” he said.
The 450 local smallholdings, in partnership with the non-profit TechnoServe, work with agronomists to train farmers in sustainable farming, coffee processing and tree management.
Mbunu, who works closely with farmers, said there has been an improvement in the quality and quantity of the coffee local farmers are producing. Production has increased by 7% and farmers are seeing their lives improve as a result of being paid in US dollars.“Coffee is really becoming a pathway out of poverty in Zimbabwe for smallholding farmers – 50% of the farmers in this programme are women and they are using the income to pay for school tuition,” Mbunu said.