October is Fair Trade Month, and we want to lift up one of our long-time Fair Trade partners: Equal Exchange. In their honor, every Tuesday we are sharing the stories of farmers whose lives are changed by your faithful support of Fair Trade. This week hear the story of Oliva Kishen, who grew up in a farming family in Uganda.
“Farming is in my blood.” That’s what Oliva Kishen will tell you if you visit her farm in Uganda. She grew up on a coffee farm and now grows coffee to support herself and her family.
Until recently, it was almost impossible to make a living as a small-scale coffee farmer in the Buginyanya region where she lives in Uganda. With only 300 trees on half an acre of land, Oliva wasn’t always able to produce enough coffee to sell. What’s more, she had to walk more than eight miles to sell her coffee to a middleman for a very low price.
But today, Oliva and her husband Joseph run a successful coffee farm with 3,000 trees and six acres of land!
The story of her success begins in 1999 when farmers in Oliva’s region joined together to form a democratically-run farmer cooperative called Gumutindo Coffee Cooperative Enterprises (GCCE) ― now well-known to U.S. Lutherans who drink Fair Trade coffee from the LWR Coffee Project. In the local Lugisu language, Gumutindo means excellent quality, which highlights the passion these farmers have for producing the best possible product. Oliva was the first woman member of her local primary society — small groups of local producers that make up the Gumutindo cooperative — when she joined in 2003. She is now the co-op’s treasurer.
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When Lutheran World Relief (LWR) began working with the cooperative in 2008, farmers weren’t producing as much coffee as they could and they also wanted to improve the quality of the coffee beans.
By working together to improve the quality of GCCE’s coffee — learning how to grow organic Arabica coffee, care for and replant trees and better process and market their coffee — Gumutindo farmers were also able to increase their coffee production by nearly 60 percent, from less than 452 tons in 2008 to over 786 tons in 2011! Now Gumutindo sells its Fair Trade coffee all over the world, including through Equal Exchange (check out the special Lutheran World Relief coffee line).
LWR and Equal have walked with the farmers of GCCE through the good and the bad. In 2011, when Uganda experienced heavy rains, flooding and landslides, the advances of GCCE coffee farmers helped them cope and carry forward. And by being part of a Fair Trade community, Oliva and the farmers of Gumutindo not only receive a fair price for their coffee, they receive a premium for their quality product, which helps them provide a stable food supply for their families.
These improvements add up to a better future for Oliva’s entire family. All seven of her children are either in school or have graduated, and she is especially proud of her oldest child who is now attending college. She says of other women in her region, “people want to follow what I am doing.”
This is how your purchase of Fair Trade coffee makes a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve around the world. This is the result of your congregation’s witness to Christ’s love by serving and selling Fair Trade coffee. Come back on Thursday to see how LWR staff are using Fair Trade products from the LWR Coffee Project for fun and delicious recipes!