The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has awarded its 2010 Sustainability Award to Coffee Lifeline. This project uses the wind-up, solar-powered Lifeline radios of the Freeplay Foundation to provide vital information on agronomy, timely market conditions, weather bulletins, technical expertise, and other coffee news.
Coffee-growing communities are often remote, with isolated farmers having limited or no access to cell phone or Internet coverage. The lack of basic weather and climate forecasts hinders optimum scheduling and care of their coffee crops. Farmers don’t know what coffee characteristics are in demand in the marketplace. And without knowledge of current market prices, farmers cannot evaluate the value of their coffee, or negotiate a fair price. Traditional means of farmer assistance — through community workshops or visits, usually by NGOs or governmental agencies — can be costly, impractical, or too infrequent.
The possession of these simple, hand-powered, rugged radios changes all of that. Special coffee-related programming, developed and broadcast by UNESCO-sponsored Radio Salus at the National University of Rwanda, brings farmers specific and important information. The radios are AM/FM/shortwave capable, so plenty of other information is available as well.
Coffee Lifeline began operating in Rwanda in 2005, conceived by American coffee importer Peter Kettler and supported by InterAmerican Coffee, Ancora Coffee Roasters, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the actor Tom Hanks, and others. Nearly 500 radios have been distributed to farmers, but their reach is multiplied many times because groups of up to 100 farmers listen to programming together.
Coffee Lifeline is just one of the Freeplay Foundation’s humanitarian projects utilizing Lifeline radios across Africa and Asia. Access to information has been life-changing to a broad spectrum of participants. It’s easy for us to take something as simple as basic broadcast communications for granted, so learning about projects like this helps us remember that knowledge is truly empowering, and we don’t have to spend a lot of money or reinvent the wheel to bring about transformation.
In 2003, the Sustainability Council of the SCAA created the Sustainability Award to promote, encourage and honor the efforts of those serving as role models in the fields of sustainability. Coffee & Conservation also covered the 2008 and 2009 awards.