In 2011 two Keswick Rotarians embarked upon a project to help the Coffee Growers in the remote community of Choche, Ethiopia.
Working tirelessly with the local Rotary Club of Jimma Central and supported by a global grant of One Million Ethiopian Birr (circa £40,000) from Rotary Foundation, our two inspirational members established the “Million Birr Grant Project” to provide small loans to the coffee farming community.
Before the project was established, the coffee farmers needed to take out small loans to sustain them, their families and their business prior to the coffee harvest. To access these loans the farmers mortgaged their crops to coffee traders at punitive rates of interest, perpetuating an increasing cycle of debt and impoverishment.
The Rotary Grant project eliminated this cycle by supporting farmers with small loans – typically up to £200 – to be repaid once the harvest was sold.
The key principle behind the project is that as the grants are repaid the money is loaned out again to another member of the community – a revolving grant. The project has seen the community grow; with 175 villagers receiving loans to date.
Grants were also made available to women within the community to start up or expand small businesses.
It has not all been plain sailing however. The effects of climate change, exacerbated by the last El Nino event, had a devastating impact on rainfall patterns.
This resulted in coffee production dropping to one fifth of its previous level and a consequent delay in the repayment of loans.
The community survived these hardships in large part due to the income derived from the new supported women’s businesses. These include a large Co-operative mill; owned by 47 women who borrowed the funds from the Rotary grants project to develop it; together with the planting of new higher yield coffee seedlings grown by the women.
The coffee crop, delayed by some years, finally produced high yields in November 2019. Loans were repaid and new loans are now being taken out.
The project has delivered additional benefits transforming the community.
The committee established to oversee the management of the loans introduced a new savings facility, now used by over 425 villagers.
Coffee from Choche growers is now sold to Fairtrade at a premium. This is used to strengthen the infrastructure of the community; improving classrooms, water supplies and even the development of a road connecting up a remote part of the community.
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