/ Par / by Stefan Shaw & Sebastian Schienle

The "Lorenzo effect": Why we believe in training for small holders

A good two years ago we travelled to Guatemala with David Browning, who was with TechnoServe at the time, to gain our own impression of the effectiveness of training for small-scale coffee farmers. Why?

Because for many farmers, coffee is their only cash crop-and thus their sole source of income. And also because the productivity of small farmers is often well below the potential.

Back then, David introduced us to a number of small farmers who had learned over the past few years how to increase their yield by applying simple methods-like regular pruning of their coffee plants. We also met farmers who had not taken part in any such training. The difference in yield from the coffee plants of the two groups was clear to see with the naked eye, and from quite a distance.

One of the farmers we met there was Lorenzo. Together with his wife, he had undergone a training program run by TechnoServe. The couple showed us the results of the training on their small property of about one third of a hectare. From what they told us, their yield tripled within a few years, and the same applied to their turnover. Instead of 100 USD a year, they were now earning 300 USD from coffee beans. We have fond memories of both the stories they told us and also their heartfelt hospitality-and of course the freshly brewed coffee we drank with them.

Now, a good two years later, David went back to visit farmer Lorenzo and his wife to see how their story was progressing. With the additional income they had earned, the couple bought a little extra land, so they now farm nearly a hectare of coffee plants. Compared to 2013, Lorenzo and his wife have achieved a 17-fold (!) increase in both their coffee yield and the income they generate from the beans. Their annual income from coffee of just 100 USD in 2013 has soared to 1,700 USD a year. Productivity per hectare has increased more than five-fold in the process. The sole trigger for this development was the training provided by TechnoServe, which cost the organization and its financial backers only a few hundred dollars.

To prove whether such progress can be scaled up, we are funding training for 100,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda and then have its effectiveness evaluated via an RCT (randomized controlled trial) conducted by an independent research group. If the results of that training confirm our hopes for the program, we will press on with it-initially in Uganda and then in other coffee-producing countries. It is quite possible that at some point Lorenzo will be one of the trainers showing the men and women of neighboring farms how to improve their living conditions on a long-term basis.