Members of COMSAgrow high quality certified organic coffee on small farms averaging 3.8 hectares. Many also grow fruit and vegetables, raise cattle, pigs and poultry and keep fish in ponds. Their coffee crop is purchased by COMSA who carry out primary processing then buy in milling, packing and export services. COMSA also purchases coffee from non-member farmers.
COMSA was founded as a co-operative in 2000 by 45 community-minded farmers who were members of a community bank scheme that provided loans to local people. This was the time of the global coffee crisis when world prices hit rock bottom making it unprofitable for farmers to harvest their coffee. Most farmers in the area were forced to abandon their farms and many migrated to the cities or to the US in search of work. COMSA farmers realised they had to find a different way of trading coffee and took the decision to join together to access the organic market for its higher prices.
With support from a rural business development organisation, COMSA was formally registered as a limited company in 2001 with a membership of 65 farmers. This was the beginning of a journey in which they learned that organic culture wasn’t just organic fertiliser, it was about incorporating principles and values into farming practices and balancing the needs of business, society and the environment. Membership has since grown to 800 farmers, a quarter of them women.
COMSA’s organic production policy aims to improve coffee quality by reviving depleted soil fertility and ending use of the harmful chemicals that caused it. This also has health benefits for farmers, makes fields safe to grow food crops and ends contamination of water sources. Coffee waste is recycled to make organic fertiliser which is distributed free to farmers, helping reduce fertiliser costs by a factor of 50 compared to chemicals. Productivity is higher than for conventional production, costs are reduced and the need for more labour generates employment and reduces migration and consequent family breakdown.