The early years
The Mt. Meru Coffee Project is a part of the faith-based relationship between the Diocese of Meru Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and the Greater Milwaukee Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), which started in 1996.
The Project originated in 1999 when a small Meru coffee farmer asked a visiting Milwaukee Pastor, “We grow coffee; you drink coffee; would you buy your coffee from us?” Over a short period of time project supporters became aware that coffee farming was the economic backbone in the region. Supporters also learned that coffee prices had fallen drastically in the prior 10 years causing farmer co-ops to close. The local farming economy was in trouble.
In 2001 the project started working with about 200 participating farmers and imported coffee for the first time. In 2003 the project was incorporated as an independent entity owned and operated by the church and obtained 501c3 tax status in the US. The project has grown and now works with over 2,000 participating coffee growing farmers.
Fair pricing practices
In 1999 local and worldwide coffee prices were very low providing the producing farmers with an income that averaged less than $1.00 per pound for beans picked from the plant, which did not even cover the Meru farmer’s production costs. Many small farmers were giving up growing a coffee crop that had provided a major portion of the local community’s cash crop income for over 100 years.
The project sought to follow the pricing and practices of established Fair Trade programs which at the time provided $1.20 per pound. Discussions between farmers and MMCP representatives in 2001 determined a price of $2.00 per pound would provide a fair and sustaining income that would enable the small farmers to continue growing coffee. In light of the Economic and Social Justice that would be developed, the higher pricing was a challenge that the project willingly accepted.
The premium price provided to the projects participating farmers for their highest quality coffee beans proved to benefit many other farmers as well. Many independent coffee buyers who might otherwise take advantage of the small farmers, were forced to increase their purchase offers to remain competitive.
In the years 2009 through 2011 as coffee prices increased the competitive atmosphere proved to be increasingly beneficial for all the farmers. In 2011 prices on the Tanzanian and world markets were exceeding $2.50 per pound. The project maintained a premium pricing policy and the participating farmers received $2.80 per pound. In the 2012 market, prices fell drastically to an average of approximately $1.50 per pound. This price drop was due in part to a large increase in worldwide coffee production and in part to a reduction in demand. The cost of production, sustainability, and supporting a family, however, has not gone down. The project continues to work with the Association to provide a minimum justice-based price of $2.20 per pound for the farmer’s high quality coffee.
In 2012-13 participating farmers received $2.20 per pound for their high quality, Select Tanzanian Coffee. Pricing policies are no longer set by the project but are now established by the elected farmer representatives of the Mt. Meru Specialty Coffee Growers Association, which was established in 2005. Every year the Association takes the farmer’s production cost, crop sustainability, inflation, the needs to support a family, the prevailing local prices and world markets into consideration as it develops coffee prices.
The project has imported, roasted, packaged, and distributed to consumers an average of 8 to 12 tons of Mt. Meru Select Tanzanian Coffee each year totaling over 100 tons through 2012-13. In that same time period the farmers and local economies have benefited from an increased coffee crop cash flow boosting their quality of life as well as those around them. Additionally the project has invested tens of thousands of dollars to support and improve the coffee processing facilities, initiate loan programs, and pay the salary for a local Tanzanian project manager who assists the farmers and their Association.
Your ongoing purchase and consumption of Mt. Meru Select Tanzanian Coffee is the single most important way in which you can support thousands of small family farmers in Tanzania. Become a part of the mission and support farmer-to-consumer relationships this Project is growing.