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How can coffee husk help to fight poverty, improve sustainability and optimise performance?

September 30,2016

What if simple coffee husks held the key to circular economy, while encouraging development of the local community and reducing the environmental footprint? We look at an innovative project from Geocycle in Uganda.

Agriculture in Uganda

Agriculture is a mainstay of the Ugandan Economy. It employs 75% of the workforce and accounts for around 30% of GDP. The sector is dominated by smallholder farmers. Often the poorest segment of society, these farmers produce a range of crops, both for their own consumption and as a vital source of income. Coffee is the main cash crop in Uganda and is crucial for the country’s economy, accounting for 22% of total exports. It is estimated that up to 20% of the population earn all or a large part of their income from coffee.


Developing agricultural production is the most effective means of reducing poverty in economies like Uganda. The 2008 World Development report shows that agricultural growth is four times more effective in poverty reduction than growth in other sectors. For the smallholder farmers, having a cash crop like coffee alongside food crops for consumption can provide a vital income boost, benefitting the whole family. The Geocycle Uganda programme involves giving farmers who have previously been excluded from coffee production an opportunity to grow this important crop.

Circular Economy: the use of agricultural residues as a low carbon pathway

Coffee husks are a waste product of coffee milling. They have commonly been dumped or burned for disposal. Since the mid 2000s, the Hima cement plant has recovered these materials. Along with other agricultural residues that are not used for feed or fertiliser, the husks replace fossil fuels as an energy source for both the kiln and the pozzolana dryer. Today more than 55% of the thermal energy for the kiln comes from biomass residues. This not only improves performance of the plant but reduces the need to import fossil fuels, which must be transported by road from Mombasa, Kenya, some 1500 kilometres away. Securing long term sustainable energy supply and promoting local development. As the plant’s use of biomass expanded, the Uganda team reflected on the long term strategy. The majority of coffee husks came from outwith the local area, because few local farmers could meet the high price of coffee seedlings. If coffee could be produced locally, it would have a beneficial impact for those farmers and would reduce the cost of transport. After consultation with local stakeholders in 2011, the plant launched a programme to support the development of coffee production in areas close to the plant. The programme had twin objectives:

- Raising household income for smallholder farmers

- Reducing negative environmental impact of coffee husks and providing a locally available biomass residue for the cement plant


The Coffee Project

Geocycle partnered with the Uganda Coffee Development Association to provide high quality seeds and technical support. Nurseries were then set up through 3 farmers’ associations to produce the coffee seedlings. Once mature, the seedlings were provided to local smallholder farmers at 1/6 their normal price. The project met with great success, “45,000 farmers signed up and around 16.7 million coffee seedlings were distributed between 2012 and 2015, with resulting income to the farmers expected to total approximately CHF30 million by 2020,” says Israel Tinkasimiire, Country Geocycle Manager at Hima Cement. On its side, Hima plant expects to recover 20Kt/yr of locally produced biomass residues which following the principles of a circular economy, will be used to replace fossil fuels.


The LafargeHolcim 2030 Sustainable Development Plan

By using wastes derived materials as an alternative energy source, replacing fossil fuels with carbon neutral biomass and partnering with local communities for poverty reduction, the project contributes to three key pillars of LH’s 2030 Sustainable Development Plan, namely Building a Circular Economy, Protecting the Climate, and Supporting People and Communities. The 2030 plan sets ambitious targets to ensure LafargeHolcim's leadership on sustainability.

Circular Economy: Worldwide LafargeHolcim aims to use 80 Million tonnes per year of waste derived resources, including biomass resources. This project contributes to the approx. 100kt/yr of biomass residues used annually by LH in Uganda.

Climate: LafargeHolcim aims to reduce specific CO2 emissions by 40% per tonne of cement. The project will boost these efforts by contributing approx. 150Kt/yr CO2 savings from biomass use in Uganda.

People and Communities: LafargeHolcim is developing a range of initiatives to benefit 75 million of our stakeholders. The coffee project in Uganda directly impacts 45,000 farmers as well as their families.

Towards 2030

The LH SD 2030 plan sets out how LH will develop sustainably over the next 15 years. New low carbon models for development must be implemented to meet the global challenges of climate change. Meeting the targets in the SD plan will be challenging, but the Geocycle Uganda Coffee Project offers an innovative example of how large scale industry can partner with small scale farmers to reduce poverty and enhance sustainability.