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43. Sustainability and the Coffee Quality Diploma

In my last post, I shared some reflections on my recent discussions with diverse coffee industry stakeholders regarding the ways coffee companies are investing at origin.  I did not mean to suggest that coffee companies are struggling to find their way while established development agencies like ours have it all figured out.  In fact, even after more than 60 years, we are still working hard to find creative ways to make our interventions at origin more sustainable – like the Coffee Quality Diploma we have created in Nicaragua in partnership with local actors like CAFENICA, PRODECOOP and the Catholic University of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry of the Dry Tropics (UCATSE).

Smallholder farmers have to successfully manage a broad range of complex processes to succeed in high-value segments of the coffee market – by my count, more than a dozen separate processes from the seed bed to the port from which the coffee is shipped.  The CAFE Livelihoods project is conducting countless training sessions with thousands of farmers across four countries to help them manage these processes more effectively.  Workshops like these are necessary but do not necessarily guarantee sustainability of impact.

Successful, sustainable development projects must expand the capacity of farmers to perform important processes independently and to maintain those practices into the future beyond the conclusion of the project.  This means that development agencies and their partners need to find effective and memorable ways to present training materials that participants can recall and apply with ease into the future, or even better, to use one-time project investments to create lasting, institutional training mechanisms.

One way that CAFE Livelihoods is working to make its content more sustainable and to ensure it continues to generate impact at origin after the project ends is the Coffee Quality Diploma at UCATSE in Nicaragua.  The initiative turns a series of high-quality one-time training sessions into an institutionalized curriculum at a local university that will continue to train coffee farmers and the field agents that accompany them well into the future.

The four-month curriculum is built around the following six thematic modules, delivered by qualified instructors with specialized knowledge in each topic, and punctuated by field visits all along the coffee chain.

  • The coffee chain
  • Climate Change and its impact on coffee
  • Sustainable coffee production
  • Effective shade management
  • Fertilization and organic upgrades
  • Coffee quality and processing

There are two dozen cooperative trainers and students participating in the inaugural Coffee Quality Diploma program at UCATSE this semester.  Through CAFE Livelihoods and our ongoing collaboration with diverse actors in the coffee chain, we look forward to working with UCATSE to continuously improve the quality of this curriculum and leave behind a sustainable training mechanism that improves the quality of processes on the ground at origin, and of course, the quality of the coffee in your cup.

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