It has been over three years since we hired our master gardener in the second village of Fiarenana. Since then he has achieved amazing results, e.g. with the school gardens and the potatoes. But sometimes the lessons learned can be more challenging. One of his very first projects was to successfully grow over 2000 coffee seedlings. We had worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain the best seeds suitable for the area, bought the recommended seeds and took them to the village to our master gardener.
This was also our first long-term microcredit idea for that village. It takes at least 3 to 4 years for coffee to produce fruit, or coffee cherries. After processing and roasting, these coffee beans ultimately provide homegrown coffee. This idea was inspired by the fact, that the village already grew enough coffee for their own consumption, in contrast to all of the villages in the area. Planting additional coffee trees could produce a surplus that we intended to become a cash crop for the villagers as they could sell the additional coffee locally.
So the gardener gave away 1850 coffee seedlings in his own village, plus 150 to the neighboring village of Fiadanana. It takes time for plants to grow. So we waited.
A few months back we started inquiring about the fate of the coffee plants. Very much in keeping with Malagasy tradition, their response was polite silence. So we asked again, and met polite silence again. During one of our site visits, our founder suggested: "why don't you take me to the coffee plants?" Our gardener politely complied, and showed us the great coffee plants in the photo, growing extremely well. We asked about the other coffee plants. After some probing, he admitted, that the other plants didn't make it, which is very embarrassing for him. Years ago, during his formal training, he had been taught to plant coffee plants in full sun, and that was the advice he passed on. As it so happened, only he, the gardener himself, did not have any land with full sun, and was forced to plant his share of seedlings in the shade. And his plants grew beautifully. But since he was the master gardener, and the only one with surviving coffee plants, he was too embarrassed to talk about it, and resorted to polite silence, when asked about the success of the coffee seedlings.
Once again, our lesson learned is: expert advice, from somebody living far away, needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. And it puts a completely new meaning to the term “shade grown coffee”.
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