A cup above the rest: Creating equitable coffee supply chains – Pt. 3

In this three-part series, 5THWAVE speaks with influential figures working to support coffee farmers at origin, to discuss the challenges facing coffee communities today and some of the solutions for ensuring the equitable and sustainable production of the coffees we cherish. Catch up on part one and part two.

Drying coffee cherries in the Woyonima village, Jabi Tehnan, Ethiopia, December 2018 | Photo credit: Project Waterfall / WaterAid


In the concluding part, we hear from Rebecca Hodgson, Head of Project Waterfall, a water charity focussed on coffee growing communities, who explains how access to clean water and sanitation is a key piece in the sustainability puzzle.

Rebecca Hodgson

Head, Project Waterfall

Water is a fundamental human right that everybody in the world should have access to. Yet, there are 785 million people in the world who currently try to get by without it. The majority live in rural, isolated areas – the same areas growing our coffee.
Since 2011 Project Waterfall has raised over £1.5m and brought clean water to over 70,000 people across the coffee growing belt in East Africa, Central America, and Asia. Across all of those projects we work with fantastic local delivery partners, who are the real heroes behind the work that we do.
When you bring clean water into a community, it changes everything. The most obvious impact is on health, especially when we’re able to bring water to essential environments such as schools, hospitals and medical centres.
With the spread of Covid-19, we’ve all become more aware of the importance of hygiene and hand washing in stopping the spread of infectious diseases, and this is vitally important in the coffee growing communities we work with.

"The climate crisis is adding huge pressure on the ability of coffee growing communities to access clean water"

Access to clean water also means child mortality rates fall, and something as simple as having a toilet block and clean water in a school can have a hugely positive impact for children. This is especially true for teenage girls, who often miss a week of schooling every month due to their periods. That means they are missing a quarter of the school year and falling behind their male peers just because there are inadequate toilet facilities at school.

It often falls on the women of the community to fetch water for the family, which can take up to eight hours every day of walking to the water point and waiting in long lines. With a clean water point closer to home, women get their lives back and have more time to pursue education and work opportunities.
Today, the climate crisis is adding huge pressure on the ability of coffee growing communities to access clean water and sanitation. Many of the communities we work with established themselves 100-200-years-ago, when there may have been an adequate source of water.
But changing weather patterns, desertification, prolonged dry seasons and drought are all limiting adequate access to water. Project Waterfall is committed to using technology and knowledge to help these communities retain access to clean water rather than having to move. Our goal is to establish a water point with a 10-minute walk of everybody’s home in a community.

WaterAid-Uganda-Kichwamba-Coffee-Farm-(12).jpgRebecca Hodgson, Head of Project Waterfall at the Kichwamba Coffee Farm in Uganda | Photo credit: Project Waterfall / WaterAid 

Just as no two communities are the same, each of our projects is tailored to local circumstances. For example, in Central America access to water is less of an issue as there is a high level of rainfall, but water storage and filtration is a challenge. In that scenario we may explore installing filtration systems, such as bio sand or eco filters, that purify the water so that it is safe to drink.
In East Africa, communities will often experience highly seasonal rainfall. Here, one solution can be to install a simple rainwater catchment system that stores water for the dry season. However, in Ethiopia, where rainfall is less frequent and predictable, we’ve worked to install full gravity flow systems. This involves building a pipe network that transports water from a spring in the mountains into the village. We then build a network of pipes and touch points so that people can access it from different areas.
In addition to making a positive difference to coffee growing communities, there are also tangible benefits for brands aligning with Project Waterfall’s initiatives. Consumers are becoming increasingly socially conscious, seeking products that align with their values, and spending with companies they can see are fostering positive change. I believe those brands stepping up and having a positive impact today will be ahead of the game in the next 10 years.

This article was first published in Issue 6 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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