Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Coffee Industry Gets Brewing Again

by Pilirani Semu-Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 21 (IPS) - Malawi’s coffee producers have come up with innovative plans to kick start the country’s sluggish coffee industry, including the marketing of specialty blends which are uniquely Malawian.

Despite the boom in coffee consumption in many markets, Malawi has in recent years been struggling to find buyers for its locally produced coffee. Out of a total volume of 2,500 metric tons produced last year for the international market, local farmers only managed to export 1,307 metric tons.

There has been a downward trend in Malawi’s coffee bean production every year since 1991, when the country reached a peak of 7,720 metric tons of coffee beans. Coffee growers only produced 3,703 metric tons in 2001, dropping to 2,500 metric tons in 2006.

The Coffee Association of Malawi (CAMAL), an organisation representing cooperatives and large and small commercial farmers, attributes the progressive decline in production to the departure of growers from the industry and the reduction in hectares under the crop.

‘‘Coffee used to be one of the major contributors of foreign exchange earnings but this is no longer the case,’’ says CAMAL’s technical and marketing executive, Peter Njikho. Currently, Malawi’s major foreign exchange earners include tobacco, cotton and sugar.

CAMAL wants to reverse the downward trend by pursuing higher value markets for its coffee. ‘‘Malawi has to search for buyers beyond its traditional reliance on the one or two commodity buyers that have regularly bought from here,’’ says Njikho.

The country’s traditional buyers have been the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany and South Africa. But this year, Malawi coffee has the potential of reaching other markets in Switzerland, the U.S., Canada and Japan.

CAMAL has managed to attract buyers from these countries. One of the selling points is that Malawian coffee tends to be softer on the palate and have lower acidity than its African counterparts.

To push for an increased market awareness of the quality of Malawi’s coffee, CAMAL has joined forces with the Malawi Investment Promotion Agency (MIPA), the United Nations Development Programme’s Growing Sustainable Business (GSB) programme and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

GSB broker Jan Willem van den Broek says Malawian coffee producers have become increasingly aware of the high quality of their coffee beans and the potential to sell in coffee specialty markets.

‘‘Since last year, measures have been taken by CAMAL to transform the country into one of the world’s premium specialty coffee producing nations,’’ says van den Broek.

He explains that Malawi has both the climate and altitude to produce high-quality coffee but that most of the country’s coffee is being exported as ungraded green beans.

Through the new initiative, CAMAL has embarked on processing its own local blends and brands. One such brand is the Mzuzu Coffee being produced in the northern region of Malawi by the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union.

The union, which comprises of 3,200 smallholder farmers, produces some of the highest-quality coffee in Malawi.

‘‘The cooperative not only exports green beans, but also roasts and brands its specialty coffee under the name ‘Malawi’s Mzuzu Coffee’. In 2005, roasted Mzuzu coffee won the country’s first coffee cupping competition, and since then it has been showcased at numerous international cupping competitions,’’ says van den Broek.

The increased market awareness by CAMAL has also managed to attract international coffee experts and buyers such as David Roche from the Coffee Quality Institute in the U.S. and Craig Holt from Atlas Coffee Importers. The Coffee Quality Institute is a non-profit organization that works to improve coffee quality worldwide.

Roche and Holt recently met with Malawian coffee producers and made a presentation on improving the quality of the coffee.

The initiative by CAMAL is aimed at improving exports and thereby foreign exchange while boosting coffee producers’ profits.

Producers are worried that they, like producers in other African countries, are facing potentially harmful non-tariff barriers from the European Union (EU).

Some European conservationists are saying that transporting products by air to sell in other countries increases pollution and is therefore bad for the environment. This could frustrate Malawi’s efforts in opening new markets for its produce.

CAMAL is therefore also working hand-in-hand with nine other countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) to render their coffee globally marketable despite the barriers they may be facing from the EU.

The African countries are fighting the challenges as one front under an umbrella body called the Eastern African Fine Coffees Association (EAFCA). During a recent visit, EAFCA’s executive director, Philip Gitao, commended local coffee producers for their efforts to work together.

He was attending the ‘‘Test of Harvest’’ competition aimed at encouraging growers to come up with coffee that could compete on the international market. The winner of the competition received a full sponsorship to utilise laboratories in Geneva, Switzerland. The Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union scooped up the first two positions. (END/2007)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lack of Running Water Puts Girls' Education at Risk

By Pilirani Semu-Banda

Rita Kalikokha of Dowa, a rural district in central Malawi, thinks about abandoning school every time she menstruates.

The hard-working, resolute 13-year-old attends a primary school that has no running water. All 350 pupils at Rita’s school have only two pit-latrines to share, and there is no tap where they can wash their hands after using the toilet.

Rita says she and other adolescent girls find these poor sanitation conditions even more awkward when it is time for their monthly periods: "It’s so difficult to concentrate in class when you know there is no water to clean up with at break time. I usually prefer staying home every time my menses come."

She says many girls in her school drop out as soon they reach adolescence as they cannot bear the inconvenience and embarrassment of having to do without water. Government statistics in Malawi show that that 10.5 percent of girls drop out of school each year as compared to 8.4 percent of boys. In addition to this, around 22 percent of primary school age girls do not attend school at all, while 60 percent of those enrolled do not attend regularly.

However, Rita’s problems concerning water are not confined to the school environment. Her village has no access to safe water. As the only girl in a family of five children, she is bound by tradition to fetch water to satisfy the needs of all four of her brothers and both her parents.

"There is very little time for me to do my homework as most of my days are taken up by my trips to fetch water."

She walks a distance of four kilometers to and from the nearest well. Her family uses this water for cooking, washing household utensils and drinking. Rita also has to ensure that there is enough water for herself, her father and mother to bathe. Her four brothers usually use a nearby stream to bathe – the same stream used by villagers as a toilet.

Child mortality is particularly high in the Dowa area, where almost every fifth child does not reach the age of five, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

But the problems with water provision and sanitation are not confined to rural areas in Malawi. Slums in towns and cities face similar difficulties as residents have to wait in long queues to buy water from kiosks or from boreholes.

In Ntopwa, a squatter area in Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre where most people eke out a living on less than a dollar per day, women resort to scooping out water from ditches of stagnant rain water. The troughs are their only water source, as they cannot afford to buy water from kiosks or boreholes. Waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea, dysentery and cholera are therefore very common in this area.

Many girls in Blantyre have similar experiences to Rita and other rural girls because the Ministry of Education frequently fails to pay water bills for local primary schools.

In the first six months of the year, more than 124,000 pupils had to use bushes around their schools to relieve themselves because Blantyre’s Water Board disconnected the water supply at 22 schools due to the government’s failure to pay bills.

Permanent Education Secretary Anthony Livuza had to plead with the Water Board to reconnect the water supply to avert an outbreak of diseases in the schools. The water supply company eventually reconnected the water, but asked the ministry to speed up paying for the service.

The United Nations Development Programme’s 2006 Human Development Report indicates that up to 33 percent of Malawi’s 12 million inhabitants have no access to safe water, while only 27 percent of the people have access to improved sanitation.

The country’s Minister of Water Development, Sidik Mia, says that having so many people without access to proper water and sanitation services jeopardises the socio-economic development of Malawi: "The effects of this go on to spread in the health, education and agriculture sectors."

He says government’s new national sanitation policy will give priority to the requirements of schools and will serve the public better with an integrated water resources management policy.

Meanwhile UNICEF is assisting in Rita’s Dowa region, where wells are being drilled for schools which currently have no water supply. The U.N. agency is in the process of installing hygienic latrines and washbasins in schools. It is also helping households in 30 communities to install hand washing facilities outside their pit latrines.

WaterAid, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps the world’s poorest people gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education, is helping Malawians to influence government and other NGOs to allocate more resources to water, sanitation and hygiene.

A policy and advocacy manager for WaterAid in Malawi, Amos Chigwenembe, says the organisation aims to help 136,000 people have access to safe water and another 131,000 to gain access to sanitation every year by 2010.

Malawi’s potential in achieving MDGs

October 24 is the anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Malawi became a member of United Nations on December 1, 1964 and the UN has been a national development partner since. The UN General Assembly also instituted 24 October as the World Development Information Day, to draw the attention of the world to development problems and the need to strengthen international cooperation to solve them. Pilirani Semu-Banda reports on the UN’s activities in Malawi and reflects on the Malawi’s progress in achieving MDGs.

Patuma Suluma from Ntaja, Machinga, is a 37-year-old single mother of three. She is also a guardian of three other children left in her custody following the death of their mother -- Suluma’s younger sister -- two years ago.

Suluma’s husband died in 1997 after failing to obtain treatment for malaria.

“I helplessly watched him die. Hiring a car or even a bicycle to transport him to hospital was out of question because our children would have starved if we had used the little money we had,” says Suluma.

Soon after her husband’s death, Suluma moved back to her home village, because as a Standard 5 graduate, employment is difficult to come by.

Her livelihood is from subsistence farming and she also works for other people to supplement her income.

Her eldest son is 15 years old and still in primary school. He cannot attend school all the time, as he has to look after his siblings when his mother is busy with farm work.

‘‘All the six children in my household fail to attend school continuously as I cannot afford to cater for all their school needs,” worries Suluma.

Suluma and her six children live in a two-roomed shack. The pit latrine they use is almost full but she does not have time to dig another.

Sadly, Suluma’s daily struggles are not an exception in Malawi.

Today, as Malawi joins other countries in commemorating 62 years of United Nations, the UN family in Malawi is preparing the next five year programme that will continue to support the alignment of Malawi’s development resources behind a results-oriented, MDG-based national development plan.

People like Suluma are at the centre of their focus. The UN is fully committed in providing support to Malawi government’s efforts in attaining the Millennium Development Goals and improving the quality of life for its people, according to UN Resident Coordinator in Malawi Michael Keating.

“The UN has always been intimately involved in Malawi’s development agenda since the country gained independence in 1964. We want to be there every step of the way and want to see the development agenda translate more and more into better quality of life for every person,” says Keating.
He cites the development of the country’s Constitution, the establishment of constitutional bodies such as Parliament, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Electoral Commission, the Law Commission and National Aids Commission as some of the major activities that the UN has been part of in Malawi.

In 2000, Malawi was among the 189 nations, which adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at eradicating poverty, fighting hunger and disease, promoting gender equality, access to education, encouraging investments in basic infrastructure and fighting environmental degradation. Malawi pledged to achieve the goals by 2015.

At the midpoint to the target date, Malawi government recently released the country’s MDGs Report, which indicates that 45 percent of Malawians are still living below the national poverty line. The good news is poverty levels have declined by 9 percent from about 54 percent in 1998. The government is confident that it will meet the goal to reduce extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.

Keating says the majority of Malawians must have access to health and education, their human rights must be protected and they must participate in the economy if the MDGs are to become a reality.

“It’s great that Malawi is taking MDGs so seriously but more needs to be done especially in the areas of gender, maternal mortality and the environment,” says Keating.
“The UN is more than a donor. We also have a great deal of global experience, policy expertise and coordination skills. Apart from the developmental work we do, our role is also to support Malawi in achieving good governance and accountability, gender equality, the well-being of children, access to information, the right to justice and the right to food,” says Keating.

He says the functions of the UN touch the areas of capacity development and resource management, which are crucial for national development.

The UN Resident Coordinator says development is about giving everyone equal opportunities. For Malawi, according to the government report on MDGs, the poverty gap ratio has only increased by two percent from 1992 to 1996.

To ensure that MDGs are an integral part of national priorities in Malawi, the UN is tracking progress of the goals, assisting the government to develop policies and improving national capacity to implement development efforts, collaborating with development partners to enhance momentum in the country and is also providing assistance to address constraints to progress.

Keating is mostly concerned with the women’s share in wage employment in the non-agriculture sector and also the lack of access to credit for women. He also worries that the quality of education needs attention and particularly for girls.
The indicators in the MDG report show that the proportion of pupils starting Standard 1 who reach Standard 5 is projected to reach 87 percent by 2015, below the MDG target of 100 percent.

Other distressing indicators facing Malawi include the high maternal mortality rate, at 984 deaths per 100,000 live births, the proportion of land area declining from around 41 percent in 1990 to around 36 percent in 2006 and up to 97 percent of the population using solid fuel.
Over a third of Malawi’s population does not have access to safe water causing annual problems with waterborne diseases. HIV/Aids are also among the major challenges that the country is facing as at least one in every 10 people is infected. But this is also an area that realising good results in some issues. The country has managed to increase the number of people accessing ARVs from less than 4,000 in 2004 to over 80,000 in 2007, but more attention is needed to reverse the infection rates.

Other areas making inspiring progress is the fight against infant and child mortality. Deaths of children, under the age of 5 have declined by 29 percent in just four years since the year 2000.

This major achievement is attributed to simple but high impact interventions including immunisation campaigns against measles, tetanus and polio, breast feeding, increased use of safe water and sanitation and the use of bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria, according to Unicef Resident Representative Aida Girma.

“If the current trend continues, Malawi will attain the MDG on reducing child mortality as soon as 2013,” says Girma.

She however warns against laxity. Girma says despite this achievement, one in every 10 children are still dying of easily preventable diseases and that Unicef and other UN agencies will continue to partner with government to see an end to this.

The Malawian government through Minister of Economic Planning and Development Ted Kalebe pledges in the MDG Report to continue with its commitment to achieving the MDGs. Kalebe states that the Malawi government has already oriented its work around the goals.

“In Malawi, the MDGs will be implemented through the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), which is an overarching medium term development strategy to run from 2006 to 2011,” states Kalebe.

UN’s Keating applauds this commitment saying the problem in Malawi has been the different agendas of development partners.

“The idea is that Malawi should have its own agenda and that development partners should be able to support that particular agenda,” he says.

Keating says the Growth Strategy gives every development partner a common point of departure and that the UN is always ready to coordinate this partnership to ensure that the consolidated effort is done well for the growth of the Malawi nation.

The UN in Malawi is currently producing its next five-year United Nations Development Assistance Framework. The UNDAF is part of United Nations reform agenda and forges greater coherence within the United Nations agencies, to maximise the impact of resources and skills by implementing one measurable national development programme.

The programme plan which will run from 2008, is focused on five priority areas namely; economic growth, protection of vulnerable people, provision of basic social services, HIV/Aids and good governance.