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Farmer. Leader. Fighter.

12th November 2021 Article

Jenipher’s words, spoken on COP26’s day of gender are so powerful, we wanted as many people as possible to read them. Here’s her speech in full: 

I am Jenipher Sambazi. 

I am a Fairtrade coffee farmer from Uganda.

I have been growing coffee for nearly 30 years. 

My parents grew coffee.

My grandparents grew coffee. 

My children grow coffee.

Coffee is in my blood.

I grew up around trees.

I am part of a co-operative of 300 farmers in Bunabude, high on the slopes of Mt Elgon.

I am the chairperson. The first woman to hold this position. 

And this makes me very happy. 

We sell our coffee to a secondary co-operative, where we are more than 3500 members. 

`It is called Mt Elgon Agroforestry Community Co-operative Enterprise (MEACCE) where I am the vice-chairperson. 

Again, I am the first woman to take this role. 

Things are changing.

Me and my fellow farmers used to be able to farm consistently. 

For food and for our livelihoods. 

The seasons, the weather, nature, were predictable. 

Then we noticed changes. 

We first noticed the changes 20 years ago. We tried telling people, but nobody would listen.  

It started with small changes, like the difference in the seasons, by a week or two. The birds were arriving at different times. 

Then came the rains. 

Faster, quicker, without warning. 

And causing great harm. 

To our coffee. To our land. To our people.

When we joined Fairtrade, it felt that we were being listened to at last.

Fairtrade understood what farmers around the world were telling them. 

The environmental standards were strict in relation to fertilisers, water usage and pesticides. 

We were encouraged to grow organically. 

We were also encouraged to participate in agroforestry methods. 

Fairtrade has empowered me in more ways than I could ever have imagined. 

On COP26 day of gender, I am happy to say that because of Fairtrade, I have not only benefited personally, but I am able to empower other women to learn. 

I empower other women to learn how to plant trees. 

To learn about climate change. 

And to learn about the power of Fairtrade.

But despite the support and understanding by Fairtrade, climate change was gathering pace. And we were on the front line. 

The ongoing floods were causing landslides and devastation to nature. 

We were using trees more and more, going into the forest to collect trees for firewood, and losing our soils. 

We were in crisis. 

10 years ago we started working with Welsh Government and other partners, and they recognised the issues and started funding tree planting programmes. 

We are very grateful for the Mbale Trees Project.

Why do we plant trees?

Because they absorb carbon.

But so do grasses and our oceans.

But trees are special.

Trees are for food. For canopy. For shelter. 

You will often find me sheltering under a tree from the hot midday sun after a busy morning working on my land. 

Trees and their roots restore and protect the soil. 

They protect us against deadly landslides.

Some leaves provide fodder and return to nature when they fall into the soil.

Had we not had the protection from the trees when the hailstones landed last year, we would have lost all our coffee crop. 

But the trees saved us.

Sadly, one of the biggest impacts of climate change is the increase in pests. 

We have seen an increase in locusts. They can cause devastation to our crops. 

We have seen an increase in coffee berry borer, which affects the berries. There is also coffee leaf rust, which affects the leaves.

It is hitting us hard. 

It is a devastating disease of coffee plants caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix. 

The rusted leaves drop, leaving the tree bare, with significantly lower coffee yield, that usually die within a few years.

But there is some good news. 

For those trees that are healthy, the quality of our coffee has increased since the trees have been planted and we get a better price for our coffee. This is good for the farmers and our co-operative.

When we get more money for our hard work, we are better prepared to respond to climate change. 

In 2019 the Fairtrade certifications were amended to include anti-deforestation measures, so you can be sure that when you buy Fairtrade, you are not contributing to deforestation.

So if you are asking yourself today, what can I do to help against deforestation and climate change? 

The answer is, buy only Fairtrade. 

Climate change is causing increasing environmental and human issues. 

There is research to suggest that there is a link between climate change and the increase in pandemics. 

Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on our communities. 

The lockdowns have been hard.

Lives have been lost. Livelihoods lost. 

Children are not going to school. Their futures are at risk. 

During the pandemic, we were able to work in partnership with the people of Wales who bought our coffee, through a new social enterprise. It is called Jenipher’s Coffi. 

Thank you to the Welsh Government for its support.  

If you love coffee like me, and you want to ensure that you don’t cause deforestation, then I urge you to buy my coffee.

According to The Global Forest Watch project, which uses satellite imagery to gather deforestation data, a shocking 15 billion trees are cut down every year. 

This is ecocide.

Trees are our friends.

They provide. They protect. They keep us safe from climate change. 

But, we must conserve them. Protect them, as they protect us. 

And plant more trees. 

When? By 2030? No.

We must do it now. Together

Thank you. Mulembe.

 

Jenipher shared these words at an event discussing the varied benefits of tree planting. In the photo, she is pictured with Jenny Rathbone, MS, a longterm supporter of Fairtrade and the work ongoing between Wales and Uganda to fight climate change. 

This event also premiered our new short film, below. 

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