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Tuesday, March 2

Uganda Landslides Disaster: "By far the most serious incident in recent times." Say, might Cafédirect lend a hand?

March 2, Missionary International Service News Agency (MISNA):
At least 50 people were killed and some 320 are missing after a landslide buried an entire village in the mountainous region of the eastern Ugandan district of Baduda. According to sources contacted by MISNA in Kampala, the landslide was caused by the heavy rains of the past three days in the region of the Mt. Elgon national park.

“The landslide began yesterday afternoon and swept away the entire Nyametsi market, where there were at least 150 people. Due to poor weather and bad communications, rescuers were only able to reach the area this morning”, said a MISNA source.

According to the local media, some fifty bodies were recovered, but the toll is feared to be much higher. The eastern Bududa region, around 300km east of Kampala, has been theatre to frequent land and mudslides due to wide deforestation in the Mt. Elgon area.
Okay, everybody get out your map of Africa. The landslides are occurring in east Uganda (in East Africa). That region has been prone to landslides and mudslides for more 40 years and it's not only deforestation that's the cause. Note the detail in this abstract about seismic activity:
The East African region has experienced major landslides in recent years. These landslides have caused many fatalities and injuries, loss of many hectares of productive farmlands and destruction to infrastructure such as roads, railways and bridges.

The warm and wet climate of the landslide-prone regions causes rapid weathering and produces a regolith weaker than the underlying rock with an interface between the two layers. This interface serves as the most common plane along which landslides are initiated once it becomes saturated. Landslides in the region are associated with steep topography, human activities such as deforestation, overgrazing, and unplanned farming on steep slopes and are induced by earthquakes and high intensity of rainfall.[...]
From Indo Asia News:
Kampala, March 2: [...] The chairman of the eastern Bududa district, Wilson Watira, told DPA that mud and boulders crashed through homes and health centres overnight in the villages of Nameti, Kubewo and Nankobe.

Watira said that rescuers had recovered between 40 and 50 bodies, but that he expected the death toll to increase.

"We estimate that 300 people died," Watira said. "As I speak, we are trying to rescue people. All the houses are buried and it is difficult to recover all the dead bodies from the rubble because we have no excavators.

"The situation is terrible."

The minister for the northern region, David Wakikona, who rushed to the scene, said that at least 10,000 people have been displaced.

The government is mobilising aid and rescue equipment, including excavators to help alleviate the situation.

Landslides often occur on Elgon and also the mountains of the Ruwenzori range on the other side of the country during heavy rains, but this is by far the most serious incident in recent times.
Why do the people live in those dangerous conditions; why don't they migrate to a safer region? Coffee. Mount Elgon - the vast volcano, straddling the border with Kenya - is where Uganda's finest coffee is grown.

From today's Wall Street Journal
Mbale is the leading coffee producer in eastern Uganda, growing the country's premium arabica coffee brands like Fully Washed AA, A and Drugar. [...] Uganda is experiencing above normal rains and the country's Meteorological agency has forecast the heavy downpours will continue up to May.

Uganda's Ministry of Disaster Preparedness has asked people living on mountain slopes to vacate the areas to avoid landslides. People living in low-lying flood-prone areas have also been asked to move.
What is Mbale? It is the town that coffee built, and so it's entwined with the reigns of terror overseen by Milton Obote and Idi Amin Dada. This long, fascinating, gruesome, and (in light of the landslides) strange 2008 article for the U.K. Guardian about the intersection of Amin's brutal rule and coffee growing culminates with a 'happy ending:'
[...] the British company Cafédirect arrived on Mount Elgon. Founded on a business model of fairness, integrity and transparency, its ethos could be described as 'Fairtrade Plus'.

First, it is part-owned by the farmers - who make up 20 per cent of the board, ensuring their voice is heard. Then, as with all Fairtrade products, it pays farmers a fair and stable price (an agreed minimum, or the prevailing world market price, whichever is higher) together with a 'social premium' to be invested in the community.

From the outset, Cafédirect set this premium at 10 per cent of the price received, when the normal Fairtrade premium was five US cents per pound. (In June last year, however, the Fairtrade figure was doubled to 10 US cents per pound.) What's more, Cafédirect commits to buying a significant amount of coffee in advance, so farmers can raise finance and plan ahead.

Finally, 60 per cent of Cafédirect's own profits are ploughed back into farming communities through its Producer Partnership Programme (PPP) - a farsightedness that goes way beyond Fairtrade. The money pays for management training, education (in areas such as fair trade, democracy and accountability) and organic certification. It is not unusual for Cafédirect to work with producers for three to five years, improving quality and building capacity, before bringing a product to market and reaping the financial benefits.

Much of that work is done on the ground by Twin, the alternative trading company that helped launch many of Britain's best-known Fairtrade brands - Cafédirect (coffee, tea, cocoa), Divine (chocolate), Oké (bananas) and Liberation (nuts).

It is, in many ways, the unsung action hero of Fairtrade. Founded as the Third World Information Network in 1985, the company is adept at supply-chain management and logistics, continuing to ship coffee out of the Dominican Republic when Hurricane Georges struck in 1998, for example. "Most buyers got out," says Simon Billing of Twin, "but we stayed in."

The same tenacity can be seen in land-locked Uganda, where the coffee produced by Gumutindo is loaded onto trucks that join a 100-vehicle convoy heading for the Kenyan border, then on to the port of Mombasa. Like most of the lorries we see in Uganda, these ones are escorted by armed guards. Early this year, when ethnic violence erupted in Kenya, Twin considered shipping coffee out of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania - but that would have been a break with tradition. In the coffee-smuggling days, Kenya was the bridge between Ugandan farmers and consumers. Symbolically, that remains the case today.

That link would not be complete without Cafédirect, the brand, which bought its first Ugandan coffee from the BCU in 1994 when the industry was on its knees. Worldwide coffee prices had soared - good for farmers in the short term, but attracting get-rich-quick investors who rushed headlong into coffee-processing because the profits were high. Private buyers in Uganda snapped up all the coffee they could, regardless of quality, to feed the insatiable processing mills. Before long, Ugandan coffee had become a laughing stock.

That is why, in 1998, the charismatic Willington Wamayeye left his job at the BCU to build a new cooperative with Cafédirect's help. Gumutindo (which means 'excellent quality' in the local language, Lugisu) started life as a quality-improvement programme to raise the bar for Uganda's disillusioned farmers.

In the first year, Willington recruited nearly 200 growers from all over Mount Elgon, driving for hours to persuade them of the benefits of producing washed arabica (partly processed gourmet beans) instead of lower-grade unwashed coffee. By focusing on quality and consistency, farmers could rack up a few extra cents, Willington explained. (Today, that 'quality differential' ranges from five to 15 US cents per pound, and a grower like Oliva Kishero produces 4,400lb a year.)

By boosting the reputation of Ugandan coffee, he told them, the farmers could guarantee themselves a market and an income. Secure in the knowledge that Cafédirect would buy all the high-quality beans they produced, the growers saw sense.

"I knew some of them from my BCU days," Willington says, "but they in turn led me to others."

When his car fell apart, destroyed by the battering it took from potholed mountain roads, he did his rounds on a motorbike. Then, as the number of Gumutindo farmers grew, Cafédirect took the decision to have all the co-op's coffee certified by the Soil Association - notching up a further organic premium of 20 cents per pound, in addition to the one for quality.

"We are winning the hearts of farmers with these premiums," Nimrod tells me, but Willington puts it another way: "The mountain is ours!" [...]
Yes, well, if the mountain is theirs perhaps they could see fit to station a few earthmovers and other excavation equipment up there, against future landslides.
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