The Brew of Choice: Coffee, Water, and Insetting in Tanzania
Lars Osterwalder | Sep 1st 2016
A thirsty crop, the coffee beans in Kagera require a great deal of water but, ironically enough, the majority of the actual coffee farmers have a hard time ensuring safe water for themselves and their families.  This is a story of corporate climate action, your cup of coffee, and how people’s lives have been changed with the wide availability of household water filters.


Throwback to early June in Tanzania: The beginning of the coffee harvesting season in the North-West of the country – in the Kagera region to be precise.


Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films


I recently had the chance to travel to Kagera as part of my work: it’s an area that has the highest percentage of rural population in Tanzania and is famous for its bananas and, more importantly, its coffee, which is shipped off to every corner of the globe. Some of the organic Fairtrade coffee travels all the way to the shelves of Coop Switzerland and into the cups of many caffeine-loving Swiss citizens, who might have never even heard of the whereabouts of Kagera.

The reason for my visit was in several ways linked to this much-loved coffee bean, and I wanted to share the highlights with you:

A thirsty crop, the coffee beans in Kagera require a great deal of water but, ironically enough, the majority of the actual coffee farmers have a hard time ensuring safe water for themselves and their families. Building a big water tank to collect rainwater during the rainy season is a common solution for those farmers who can afford it. For the majority who cannot, the means to collect water for their families consist of trudging along to the nearest handpump, spring, or stream. The water from these sources is generally not suitable for consumption and the majority of farmers boil it to make it safe to drink – requiring in turn another trip outside the house to scavenge for precious firewood. Unfortunately, the lack of appropriate storage containers often leads to the recontamination of water even after it is boiled, which means that it is no longer safe for drinking – a fact not always known to the local families.

Put simply: alternative water treatment methods to boiling are urgently needed in this remote part of Tanzania.

Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films

Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films


We are proud to have been able to bring about alternative ways to safely treat water in early 2015: together with Basic Water Needs and the Karagwe Development and Relief Services, we have helped make household water filters widely available for the locals in Kagera. The goal of my visit was to work on few final tasks before this water project could be successfully registered under the Gold Standard for generating carbon credits. The Gold Standard is a strict certification body that works to ensure that every dollar of climate and development funding goes as far as it can, and that projects adhere to the UN Global Compact. It was the fourth in my series of visits to Kagera that started with checking the project’s feasibility and identifying suitable partners on the ground, to designing a detailed implementation plan and coordinating the carbon registration. (To make sure we also #WalkTheTalk, I am based in our company’s office in Addis Ababa in order to keep travelling time and related carbon emissions to a minimum!)

I was thrilled to learn that our Tulip Table Top filters can now be found in more than 25 shops around Karagwe and Kyerwa districts in Kagera region. The water filters not only remove all pathogens from the drinking water but also provide a safe water container from which water can be dispensed directly into a drinking cup.



Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films


The dirty water collected is simply added to the top bucket of the Tulip Table Top filter, and cleaned while flowing through the ceramic filter into the lower bucket – making it easy for the families to access clean water. This translates into less time for collecting firewood and boiling drinking water – a burden mainly borne by local women and girls – less firewood being burnt, and less overall greenhouse gas emissions.

“But wait – what does all this have anything to do with my coffee?”

All this has everything to do with your coffee – whether you’re a supply chain manager or a (Swiss) coffee-lover: the Tulip Table Top filters save around two tons of emissions per family per year. These emission reductions are quantified and certified under the Gold Standard Foundation. In this particular case, the carbon credits issued for the reductions will be purchased by Coop Switzerland to offset unavoidable emissions from air freight and business travels. Besides showing its commitment to address global climate change, Coop supports the coffee farmers along their supply chain in Tanzania. Improved health and time savings will help the farmers to sustainably improve their families’ livelihoods.



Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films


The time (and sweat!) put into bringing about the Tulip Table Top filters feeds into just one of our many community-based projects along a specific supply chain. This type of integration of emission reduction projects into the supply chain – ‘insetting’ – makes operations more sustainable and creates long-lasting shared value. Happily enough, Tanzania is not the only place where this type of work is being carried out!

When drinking coffee in the early morning, most Swiss might still not know where in the world Kagera is. However, many coffee-consumers will probably be more aware of the fact that Coop Switzerland invests in the farmers working along their supply chain to make sure their coffee is produced in an increasingly fair and sustainable way. The same actions taken also feed into lowering global greenhouse gas emissions and reducing deforestation in Tanzania.

That alone should already improve the taste of that morning cuppa.



Image credit: Felix Seuffert / Butterfly Films


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