A startup company called Café de Manica is hoping to lead a resurgence of the green coffee industry in Mozambique, beginning with organic production, fair compensation to small-scale farmers and a focus on compensating women.
The three-year-old company is now working with more than 2,300 farmers in the southeast African country — handling seedling distribution, technical assistance, post-harvest processing and roasting — with an estimated yield of 10 million pounds of coffee this past harvest season.
Café de Manica was founded and has been funded by its founders, Jenaro Lopez and local operator Mandela Manuel. Lopez told DCN that the company has not to this point received any grants or loans from government entities or financiers.
In 2019, the company initially led the distribution of 500 arabica coffee seedlings to about one dozen farmers in the highlands surrounding Chimanimani National Park. They later introduced seven new varieties of seeds brought in from Malawi, Brazil and neighboring Zimbabwe. While continuously growing the number of participating farmers, more than 1 million seedlings under Manica’s watch are now in the ground.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth over the past three years,” agronomist, farmer and company director Mandela Manuel told Daily Coffee News. “Our first harvest, we saw about 390 kilos of coffee, and now we’re up to 10 tons, which we’re able to sell and contribute to Mozambique’s economy.”
Coffee Production in Mozambique
Coffee is believe to have been first brought to the southeastern African country through Portuguese occupation. After seeing relatively high green coffee output through the early and middle part of the 20th century, Mozambican coffee production declined in the years of civil conflict following the country’s fight for independence, and in the subsequent democratic era.
Data regarding Mozambican coffee production is sparse, but most sources estimate that the country has produced approximately 800 tons of green coffee in recent years, including 827 tons in 2019, according to a UN estimate. The ICO and USDA Foreign Agricultural Service do not include Mozambique in their global coffee reports.
Café de Manica’s Lopez told DCN that, despite Mozambique’s relatively low output, the country boasts elevations, soils and climatic conditions that make it an ideal place to invest in production.
“We didn’t really expect to harvest anything substantial at first, but it was a really good surprise for us that we managed to get quite a few producers to harvest coffee,” Lopez told DCN. “We believe that soon our project shall reach the highest level of both quality and quantity, yielding an estimate of 30 tons.”
Café de Manica currently provides local farmers with seedlings at no cost, while offering year-round technical assistance in growing and harvesting.
“Everything is organic, so we must be sure that our natural fertilizers are correct and that we prevent anything harmful from happening to the plants,” Lopez said. “That way, together, we produce the best beans possible.”
Building a Domestic Coffee Market
For many of the small-scale farmers in Manica’s network, coffee is a new crop, adding to their existing farm operations.
“During our initial stages of growth, it took time sitting with several farmers in the community, trying to get people to understand the whole concept; but once they saw what we were hoping to build, it was like a snowball effect,” said Lopez. “The coffee production operation is our way of giving them added financial support to the other crops they’re already growing, such as maize and bananas.”
After the harvest, Café de Manica buys beans from farmers, then roasts and packs them for sale to retailers and other buyers within the domestic market.
Said Lopez, “We even managed to export some coffee to the Netherlands, with our first harvest in 2022.”
The company is also running a program called Women in Coffee, designed to ensure direct compensation to women who are farming coffee.
“The biggest challenge with all that is getting the leaders of these families to allow the woman to be in possession of that coffee, or to [possess] part of that coffee and earn extra income,” said Lopez. “But our program is one of a kind, and women across it have noted many positive cultural changes, including recognition in their home and farm.”
In addition to producing organic coffee, Café de Manica has connected with other partners in Mozambique for other efforts towards environmental stewardship. The group recently signed a partnership with Mozambique conservation agency BIOFUND that will allow sales of Manica coffees to go towards Chimanimani.
Said Lopez, “This allows Café de Manica to channel 2 percent of its revenues from the sale of processed coffee to support the improvement of environmental and social practices, as well as the promotion of the importance of biodiversity, in the Chimanimani National Park.”
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Shavantay Minnis is a writer based in sunny South Florida. She enjoys nature, giving back to the community and her sugar with a side of coffee.