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Farm: Nambala Agricultural Marketing Co-operative Society
Varietal(s): Bourbon, Kent & other local varieties
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1500 -1619 meters above sea level
Owner: Smallholder farmers
Coop members: 287 membersr
Recommendation: Everyone will love this for Manual Brews.
Nambala Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society (Nambala AMCOS) originally formed as an independent group named Ilambo in 2007. Today, the cooperative deals primarily in coffee and maize, combining produce from 287 members within the district of Songwe.
Located less than 30km from the borders of Zambia and Malawi, sits the town of Vwawa; administrative headquarters to the region of Songwe. Home to over 65,000 people (2012), Vwawa is the location for Nambala AMCOS’ central processing unit (CPU). Farms in the region tend to be very small, rarely totalling more than 5 hectares in size, and often as small as a single hectare.
The majority of farmers keep one or two pigs or cows and some poultry to support their income and provide sustenance. In addition to coffee, many grow maize, peanuts and beans; amongst other cash crops. As well as providing a second source of income, produce such as maize provides useful by-products like mulch for the coffee trees; locking in moisture on the high sloped contour farms. Similarly, the primary fertiliser for many farms in the region is manure from livestock, mixed with small amounts of NPK (known as Yara Java). Pruning is generally conducted twice a year during the harvest cycle. Healthy trees will normally receive only light pruning, whilst unhealthy trees are heavily cut back to stimulate growth. When a coffee tree is no longer producing its desired quota, the tree will be cut right back and stumped; focusing on one side to allow new shoots to grow from the other. Primary varieties include Bourbon Kent as well as other local varieties, with coffee seedlings and seeds distributed and shared between local farmers and neighbours.
This lot from Nambala AMCOS is primarily made from home processed coffee, with cherry hand-harvested and pre-sorted before pulping at the producer’s farm. All farmers who are a part of the Nambala AMCOS have been trained by the government, to make sure the coffee parchment delivered to the CPU is up to standard.
The coffee cherry is selectively handpicked by the family at each farm. Once the day of picking is complete, processing will begin by separating out any under/ overripe cherry, along with any foreign matter such as sticks or gravel. Next, the coffee is pulped using a hand pulper to remove the outer layer of fruit. Typically, the cherries are picked, sorted and pulped all in the same day; with processing conducted in the evening after the daily picking is complete. Next, the coffee is placed into fermentation tanks to remove the remaining mucilage. Here the beans will remain for 2-3 days, depending on the atmospheric temperature. Once fermentation is complete, beans are washed in cool clean water, often acquired from natural sources such as boreholes or rivers.
Once clean, beans are taken to the raised beds to be dried. Here the parchment coffee is spread across the raised beds and turned regularly to ensure an even dry. The tables are covered at high sun (noon) so that the beans are not scorched, as well as when it rains to prevent re-wetting. During the night, the coffee is also covered with polythene to prevent the build-up of any moisture. The process of drying will typically take anywhere between 7 to 12 days; with beans only removed once the moisture content has reached 11.5% or lower.
Once dried, parchment coffee is bagged before making its way to the AMCOS’s CPU. Parchment is delivered by all modes of transport; be it motorcycle, bicycle, or carried on farmers heads. Once delivered to the CPU, cherry is separated out by the date of harvest. This allows for traceability to be conducted for every lot down to the bag. Each delivery is assessed for parchment quality and moisture content. These results will impact the premium which the farmers receive. From here, the coffee will be milled by the AMCOS, ready for export.
Nambala AMCOS is currently facing a number of difficulties. One of the primary challenges facing the group is the high cost of inputs needed to farm the land, making the cost of production expensive. Combined with the low market price for coffee, coffee farming in the region is becoming unprofitable. Because of this, the group has to take out loans from banks to cover the cost of production, which in turn reduces farmer’s income. Along with the difficulties relating to the cost of farming, the association is also facing a new battle; brought on by climate change. With inadequate rains and longer dry days, reduced yield is now exacerbating existing challenges for Nambala AMCOS and their wider community.