Naturland Association for Organic Agriculture

Naturland

Naturland has been assisting the burundian coffee co-operative federation COCOCA since 2014, with the conversion of two primary cooperatives to organic coffee production. Now this pilot scheme, which is being run in close co-operation with WeltPartner eG and is receiving funding from the German province of Baden-Württemberg, has been expanded to include 17 grassroots co-operatives which will be receiving ongoing technical and scientific support.

The predominant growing conditions in 2014 were far removed from the diversified agroforestry system required under the Naturland standards, because for many years in Burundi, it was not accepted to plant other trees on coffee plantations. Although in the meantime it is again permitted, a great deal of traditional knowledge has been lost over the years. For this reason, conversion to the cultivation of coffee under shade trees to comply with the high Naturland standards for sustainablity, requires the provision of intensive advisory services; all the players need good staying power, including especially the local smallholders’ families. Besides providing both co-operatives with technical advice, Naturland has also assisted to establish an internal inspection system. Besides this a good relationship to the important national players in the Burundi coffee industry has been built up over time, with the aim of gaining their support for this organic initiative.

In the new project, which started in 2019 and will probably last until June, 2021, the University of Applied Forest Sciences (Hochschule für Forstwirtschaft) in Rottenburg, Germany, and the agricultural faculty of Burundi University are also on board. In this applied research project, their main objective is to provide support and advice on the establishment and development of agroforestry systems. The experience gained from co-operation with the two initial grassroots co-operatives in the organic field is now to be applied to a further 15 COCOCA co-operatives. Besides this, the agricultural advisory services provided by COCOCA are to be expanded, with particular emphasis on participative advisory methods, farmer field schools and creating demonstration sites. Ten more agricultural advisers are to be employed for this purpose.
Diversified coffee cultivation in agroforestry systems delivers many services

Naturland continues to assist the project with advice on conversion to organic to facilitate the change from coffee farming as a monocrop to sustainable and varied mixed cultures within an agroforestry system. This means that the coffee is grown as part of mixed cultivation among, for example, banana, citrus and other fruit trees or timber trees, thereby increasing the productivity of the small farms. The farmers harvest not only coffee but also fruit and other products such as building wood and firewood, for their own use or for sale on local markets. This improves food security and generates additional income. The rich variety of plants and trees helps to protect the soil, enhances its fertility by creating additional humus, reduces soil erosion and stores nutrients and water in the soil more efficiently. Such sophisticated cultivation systems also reduce pest and disease pressure, and in the current era of climate extremes these multi-faceted services are becoming ever more important. A further challenge when converting to organic cultivation is to keep control over the coffee bug which infests the coffee beans with a bacterium. The result is not just a drop in coffee yields but also that one single bad bean can later spoil the quality of a whole batch of coffee. COCOCA and its farmers are experimenting jointly with various plant extracts to see if they can be used to keep the coffee bug in check. Naturland is providing technical support.

Research and extension work supporting each other

The new scientific monitoring and advisory services with which the project is being provided are a great bonus. So far there has been little comprehensive scientific research capable of supplying proof to back up general claims with concrete empiric data. Besides this, accompanying scientific research provides a unique opportunity for the evaluation of scientific data relating to the establishment of an agroforestry system from the very beginning. The research content of the university is very promising and also useful for COCOCA, the coffee growers and for Naturland in general. The research focuses on how coffee cultivation in agroforestry systems affects soil fertility, water balance, pest infestation and the farmers’ families.

This also permits statements to be made on the affect of such a project on the food security of the families of the smallholders participating in it as well as its impact on the added value it contributes to the local economy, as well as identifying possible secondary effects. Furthermore, it helps to expand and consolidate the current recommendations as to the best crops to plant.