Monday, January 28, 2008

Cromwell Sustainable Coffee Ltd helps Kabwum growers

Kabwum Valley is in the Huon Peninsula, 115km north-east of Lae, Morobe province.

The valley is surrounded by the scenic Cromwell Mountains on the north-east and Saruwaget Ranges on the north-west end.

Both contain large alpine and rain forests with high biodiversity and wildlife sanctuaries.

Coffee farms are scattered on the foothills of both ranges stretching coastward towards Wasu port.

Ideally, Wasu port handles all coffee moved out of Kabwum Valley.

Coffee was introduced to Kabwum Valley by early missionaries in 1950’s.

Komba, Timbe, Selepet and Urua/Yopna tribesmen - who make up the population of Kabwum - grow this very important cash crop intercropping with taro, banana and other tree crops with no chemical fertilisers.

Currently, 100% of coffee is sold as “conventional” to agents representing major exporters in Lae, Morobe province and Goroka, Eastern Highlands province.

With the closure of Wasu Kabwum coffee mill in 1998, coupled with the constant changes in New York “C” coffee prices, these agents took advantage and paid less than New York “C” prices to the growers, taking large slices for themselves or their processors and exporters.

Lack of transportation and communication infrastructure added to the worsening situation for Kabwum coffee growers.

They struggled to make a living from this most-important cash crop, and most growers abandoned their villages and drifted into urban centres.

These are the producers of the second most-traded commodity in the world.

Out of this structural inequality in Kabwum’s coffee industry, Cromwell Sustainable Coffee (CSC) Ltd was born on August 23, 2005, under the IPA Business Registration Act 1997, and commenced operation in October, 2005.

The main objective has been to act as organic operator under the standards of National Association for Agriculture Australia (NASAA), a third-party organic certifier based in Adelaide, Australia, to assist smallholder coffee growers develop and promote the certification, production and marketing of certified smallholder grown organic coffee from Kabwum.

Cromwell Sustainable Coffee Ltd is headed by Ferro Muga as managing director.

Mr Muga holds a degree in Bachelor of Science (food technology) from Unitech, Lae.

He graduated from the University in 1982 and joined Ramu Sugar Ltd.

During his 22 years of service (1983 – 2005), he has held many senior positions, the latest being distillery manager managing the Ramu Sugar ethanol processing plant.

“CSC, acting as organic operator under NASAA standards, has initiated this organic coffee venture because, although the smallholder growers grow coffee with no synthetic chemical fertilisers, they cannot be considered for market certification purposes because many countries now regulate organic coffee trade,” Mr Muga explained.

“ To sell coffee as organic, the producers and processors must work within and be certified by certification bodies most often according to the standards that meet or exceeds the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement – IFOAM - basic standards.

“This requires a system of regular inspection and certification that helps to ensure the credibility of organic coffee and help build trust in the market place.

“NASAA is accredited by IFOAM.”

As a guideline the following international rule s apply:
Coffee sold as organic to the US must be certified by USNOP (United States National Organic Program);
Coffee sold as organic to EU must meet the EU Standard 45011 Regulation;
Coffee sold as organic to Japan must be certified by JAS or deemed equivalent to JAS (Japanese Agriculture Standards); and
IFOAM – International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement. An over-arching international body that accredits certification organisations and sets standards for organic coffee certification.

“Initially, CSC has committed its finances to purchase parchment coffee from growers and re-sell to exporters in Lae to generate funds to embark on the organic coffee venture,” Mr Muga said.

“There are 30 grower groups (villages) within the operational area each with an organic inspector and an assistant.

“The membership is approximately 3, 500 and still growing.

“The volume of coffee is about 12, 500 bags of 50kg parchment coffee - 3.6 bags per grower.”

CSC has provided the following services to its members:

Farmer registration;
Mapping of coffee growing areas;
Inspection of coffee farms and;
Provide technical advice on rehabilitation of coffee plots and quality control of cherry picking and processing, hence, preparation of good quality parchment coffee; and
Set up internal organic control system to facilitate organic inspection/verification.

Apart form a core business of coffee, CSC has embarked on two community-related projects as follows:

Coffee for Books (CfB) elementary education programmes to address child literacy in the coffee growing communities; and
Community electronic network by way of VSAT stations in several key locations in Kabwum District. It is in planning stage.

“To date, most of CSC’s coffee has been sold to New Guinea Coffee Tea & Spices Ltd, Lae, and New Guinea Highlands Coffee Ltd, Goroka, under green bean contracts,” Mr Muga said.

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