Cameroon is the place where stories of struggle, resilience, and hope echo more loudly than any gunfire. In the afflicted Anglophone region of Northwest Cameroon, coffee farmers are suffering from an ongoing conflict. Here, normalcy means having no choice but to flee your home and move with only a few belongings. Here, where even school education or sleeping in your bed becomes dreadfully challenging, coffee farmers are trying to make their job a means of hope and a way of escape from the current afflicted reality.
From its introduction in the early 20th-century coffee remained one of the most important economic assets of the Bamenda region of Cameroon. For years coffee has been providing economic support for tens of thousands of farmers and their families, but its processing, transportation, and transformation within the region have become another responsibility to carry.
In late 2016, the government forces brutally repressed demonstrations by Anglophone lawyers and educators against their systematic marginalization from the French in the English-speaking legal and educational institutions. The general peaceful strikes rapidly escalated into a serious armed conflict, which has been continuing undebated since. The protestors are violently struggling for an independent state called “Ambazonia”.
The social and economic impact of the conflict on the Anglophone regions’ population is disastrous:
- Over 500.000 internally displaced people;
- 40.000 refugees in neighbouring regions or countries;
- More than 3.000 killed (mostly civilians);
- Closure of schools for already 3 years and forced closing or relocation of businesses;
- Mass arrests and deadly targetings of young men by the military, which bring to radicalization and formation of armed resistance, aka “Amba Boys”;
- Turning of villages, schools, clinics, and churches leading to the abandonment of many villages;
- Systematic disruption of food supplies due to the blocking of major linking roads.
“How can I sleep in my home when my bed is on fire?” – Ernest, Cameroonian farmer
Matti Foncha is the vocal ambassador for those voices of resistance impossible to ignore. He created the Cameroon Boyo coffee brand to empower farmers and to bring normality back to their lives, focusing on quality and building collaborative relationships along the coffee supply chain, such as with The Coffee Quest.
Our recent collaboration with him (“Beans of Resistance”) brought us to discover the power of visual storytelling, where pics from real-life situations make any additional words pointless. The aim was to bring insight into the Cameroonian current afflicted situation, Thanks to Sources Magazine, this collective effort serves as a demonstration of their perseverance despite all the suffering and political uncertainties starting from 2016.
“Far too many consumers do not know the true origin of their beans” – M. Foncha
Alongsi Estate, Acha, Anjang, Belo, Noni, Mbam, Muloin, and Mentang villages are just a few names of places where many of our struggling coffee stories have begun. In the complexity of this interconnection, Cameroon Boyo stands out alone, as a hub spot and as an example of resistance for many farmers. Together with its leader, Matti Foncha, they are making a leap in coffee production to inspire the younger generation.
- In the hills around the Bamenda region, Matti Foncha runs his farm, Alongsi estate, where he produces a small volume of Natural Typica’s.
- Working as a field officer for Cameroon Boyo, Charitie’s dad and his neighbours are among the only farmers in Cameroon to produce pulped naturals. They got their knowledge thanks to the experiments done at Acha Station
- 500m down from the main road in Belo, we can find Acha station, at Ernest’s House. At this first central hub, constructed for Cameroon Boyo, Ernest and his father Bobe Ngam produce cherry and collect and process coffee. Here, Ernest builds experience in alternative processing styles like naturals and honey lots.
- In Belo, Noni, Mbam, Muloin, and Mentang, farmers produce Washed village lots, which are fine products for blending and dark roasted single-origin products. These lots are our baseline of the positive collaborations we do with Cameroon Boyo. In 2017, with the help of our roaster-partners, we raised capital to build a small washing-station. However, it’s hard to control what is going on there and the conflict is forcing farmers to train and receive assistance from distance.
Thanks to Ernest, farmers from Mentang and Anjang grow and produce Natural village lots. This method provides more resilient coffee than farmer-washed lots. Since growers cannot always handle the land, due to the conflict, natural production is an alternative way to cope with such difficult situations.
The downturn and instability of coffee commodity prices that started in the 1990s forced many farmers to abandon coffee production in favour of other crops, which were sold in local markets. From a peak of close to 20,000 tons in the 1980s, production of Arabica coffee today stands at less than 1,000 tons in this region.
The Coffee Quest has always taken a special approach with Cameroon Boyo when it comes to pricing and payments. In the early days of our collaboration, the farmers supported us and sent their coffee to Europe without expecting payment directly.
It was then the task of The Coffee Quest to create value for the coffee, and determine the price. In the past 2 years, we have paid the producers up front, with the additional aim to help them to overcome such challenges resulting from the conflict.
In order to support the production of innovative processing techniques, and to reward success in the achievement of quality, we diversified our sales prices. Products like the Alongsi Natural and Charity’s dad’s pulped and dried lot are truly one of a kind products you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.
A fair price for these coffees will help us support the producer in creating true value for his work. Something which is even more unique, especially if considered the current situation those people are living in.
Products like the Anjang, and Foumbot Natural are currently the benchmark for a new generation of farmers switching from washed to natural production. The quality of the coffee and in particular the potential is well fit to what European markets are expecting.
We also want to support this shift to higher prices, and by doing so, we hope to nudge farmers to produce naturals using the methodology developed by Ernest Ngam at Acha Station.
The Coffee Quest has been involved in Cameroon coffee projects since 2015, funding and building micro-processing centres, providing traceability for farmers and roasters, and establishing protocols for quality certifications. Together with Matti Foncha from Cameroon Boyo, we built relationships with farmers based on trust, transparency and mutual respect. The work of Matti Foncha and all the involved partners is remarkable.
It is common knowledge that many coffee varieties exist naturally in tropical forests across Africa, but the coffee commercially grown and traded today in Cameroon was first introduced by German missionaries in the second half of the 19th century, when Germany claimed Kamerun as its protectorate. After World War 1, the League of Nations partitioned it, with France and Britain administering what is now called Cameroon.
However, what people may not know is that in both territories, coffee production was an important but critical export, which has helped to shed light on the turmoil and instability of the events.
As in the words of Matti Foncha, it is important to know this is just a start to garner interest in the real-life situations faced by those farmers, hoping for a brighter future where collaborations could be improved.
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