Reviving the coffee industry on Tanna Island

Nov 13, 2015

Chief Jack Kapum examins his coffee plantation (Photo: Sheryl Ho/UNDP).

Coffee is one of the main sources of livelihood for the people of Tanna Island. Home to one of the Pacific’s few active volcanoes, Yasur, its rich soils, abundant sunshine and rainfall, makes Tanna one of the best places in the Pacific to grow coffee. But the events of 13 March, resulted in the destruction of this delicate plant, as Tropical Cyclone Pam swept across the archipelago.

From May to October each year, farmers are usually enjoying their hard earned income after selling either green or dried coffee to coffee producers. Instead, farmers were dealing with the losses from this important plant, as many focused on rebuilding and restoring homes. As a result, farms were left idle, surrounded by debris and damaged plants.

With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Tafea Province and Tanna Coffee, through the Waste Management and Livelihoods Recovery Initiative in Vanuatu, clearing and pruning assistance was provided to the farms badly damaged.

To ensure the project reached the farmers in need, all coffee growers in Tanna (and not only those registered by the Tanna Coffee company), had the opportunity to register following an awareness campaign on the Island. Within four months, four mobile teams had supported 714 farmers, a total of 106,394 coffee trees have been pruned and 94.5 hectares of coffee plantations cleared. Areas currently supported under this initiative, include North Tanna, Middlebush, East and West Tanna.

“I have been proving technical assistance to the Tanna Coffee team in the rehabilitation, cutting of the trees, pruning and clearance,” said Assistant Agricultural Officer, Sam Nakilo. He is also looking at longer-term solutions for replanting new seedlings. With this assistance, he hopes to get the farmers motivated and interested in reviving their farms.

The sizes of each farm ranges from 200 square meters to one hectare. On average, Tanna Coffee produces up to 85 tonnes of coffee annually for the local and international markets. Markets include Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“We were forecasting about 100 tonnes this year but unfortunately we won’t reach this target as the Cyclone has stripped everything,” said Tanna Coffee’s Manager on Tanna, Benson Samuel. “This year our team has only purchased three tonnes and our new target is five tonnes.

All hope is not lost as Tanna Coffee has beans stored at the company’s Tanna factory ready for shipping to Port Vila.

“There was so much damage, that words cannot describe it. It’s something we haven’t experienced in years,” said third generation coffee farmer, Isso Kapum. “In a year, for every hectare, we produced 1.5 tonnes of coffee, this year, we won’t produce anything at all.

Mr. Kapum, his father and brother, all have a hectare of land on which they plant coffee. According to his father, Chief Jack Kapum, this year was going to be the first year of harvesting fruit from the trees planted three years ago, on the family’s three acres of land.

“Our trees were bearing a lot of fruit and we were expecting a large harvest,” said Chief Kapum. “From each plant, we were expected five to 10 kilograms of coffee, but everything was destroyed by the Cyclone”

Expressing his appreciation for the assistance in reviving his family’s coffee farm, Chief Kapum said that his family and their community would be able to benefit in years to come.

“Through this project, helping to revive the coffee industry is helping people. After the Cyclone, the morale of the people was destroyed,” said Mr. Kapum. “Without the assistance, we wouldn’t be able to revive our farm on our own.”

According to Mr. Nakilo, it would take three to five years before the coffee farms to get back to what it was before the Cyclone.

“We also have developed a model farm for farmers, promoting short, medium and long-term crops in one block. In addition to coffee, we plant essential oils, kava and root crops like kumala (sweet potato) and dalo ni Tanna (taro),” said Mr. Samuel.

UNDP’s Waste Management and Livelihoods Recovery Initiative in Vanuatu has two components: debris clearance and waste management in urban areas, and livelihood restoration in rural areas. The collaboration between UNDP and the Department of Local Authorities has been further assisted by the Russian Government with the provision of an additional funding of US$500,000 to the project to continue its Tropical Cyclone Pam recovery and resilience activities in Vanuatu.

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