Earlier this year, I had the HUGE pleasure of joining Jeffrey Lahva, the Director of our local partner, Nasi Tuan, on his first visit to the Mojo Roastery in Wellington. Nasi Tuan is a co-operative made up of 600 indigenous farmers on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, who export green beans to New Zealand specialty coffee roasters, like Mojo and Supreme.

As a self-proclaimed coffee addict, I was already pretty excited about this trip! But I came away absolutely buzzing, having seen the impact that quality coffee and sustainable partnerships, like Mojo and Nasi Tuan’s, can make to kick-start communities recovering from a disaster.

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Using social enterprise as a vehicle and direct trade as an avenue, Tearfund is moving farmers beyond aid into a sustainable business. By connecting Nasi Tuan with Mojo—one of New Zealand’s largest coffee roasters—farmers who were once recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Pam, are now producing commercially competitive, high-quality coffee. This is not only helping them to become self-sufficient, but helping them to increase living standards for their families and communities.

Jeffrey sat down to share about Nasi Tuan’s inspirational story with me. I hope you enjoy it!

How and why was Nasi Tuan created?

“Nasi Tuan’s story began through short term missions trips from New Zealand churches to Vanuatu. I was working for the government in Port Vila, but my brother, who is a pastor, had a connection with another pastor at Windsor Park Baptist Church, and they started to send New Zealand youth to minister and outreach here.

"After a while, we had a conversation about these church outreach trips from New Zealand and we put forward the idea to start an NGO that could help people long-term rather than short-term. I said to my brother, 'That’s a smart idea, to start an NGO so it can be transparent and money won’t be misused, maybe I can help?' Nasi Tuan was born out of this conversation to meet the basic needs of our community."

Nasi Tuan officially started in 2009 as an NGO on Tanna Island in Vanuatu. "We had seen a lot of gaps in the Tanna community’s wellbeing so I held a meeting with my eldest brother who is a chief, my second eldest brother who is a pastor, and Andrew Finlay from Tearfund. We asked ourselves, how can we help this community to access better opportunities so they can meet their basic needs? How can we help people to improve their own lives? One key need was water. Many people didn’t have clean water at that time, and some still don’t. There was also an issue in that a lot of people on Tanna have a cultural belief that someday, someone from say, America, will bring good things to them, so they don’t do much to improve their own lives. They’re just waiting. This belief started after World War II, and colonisation is partly to blame for this."

Most of the people living in rural areas on Tanna rely on agriculture. "We started going down the development route to start a social enterprise on the island, growing coffee. We did a six-month survey of coffee production on Tanna. Tanna is the perfect climate for growing coffee and it’s the biggest export aside from copra.”

What kind of work did Nasi Tuan do originally?

“Our first project was to help fix the water issue. We did this by building 24 water catchments around Tanna. We also did sustainable livelihood training in agriculture. Agriculture represents the biggest income for Tanna, so we wanted to help farmers to understand basic agriculture techniques to grow coffee as well as peanuts and other vegetables.”

Why does Nasi Tuan farm organically?

“We decided not to use chemicals in our farming as I knew the negative effects of it; organic is the best strategy for our farmers. Subsistent farmers on Tanna have to balance both culture and agriculture through their farming, you can’t separate the two. We have to understand and work with the community’s whole existing system."

Jeffrey says, "That’s Nasi Tuan’s entire development approach; developing within the existing system rather than changing the whole system. Making small changes within the existing system and embracing the strengths of our farmers’ culture and worldview. That’s why we focus on agriculture because one; farmers can make their own food and gain food security from it, two; they can make a sustainable income from the food, and three; it’s also linked to farmers’ cultural obligation. You have to play your part in your family and community, for example, you gift your wife with food when you get married on Tanna.”

What effects did Cyclone Pam have on your communities?

“Cyclone Pam hit Tanna very badly. In my life, I have never experienced that level of disaster. It’s hard to explain the emotion of it, I thought it was our last day. The force of the category-five storm felt like the current of a big river. You couldn’t see anything outside; no more trees, no more bush, it was all gone. And it affected everything on the island, the forests, the houses, everything. But we thank God because it happened during the day, not at night. So we could see the flow of the storm and move in the right directions to safety."

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Jeffrey says, "After Cyclone Pam, our initial focus was on keeping people alive. Our next question was, 'What can people do for food?' The government supported our communities to help get emergency imported food, but we had to think about how to recover the agriculture. We had to think about a short, mid and long-term strategy in terms of agriculture. We did this by firstly, mobilising our communities and teaching them how to make flour using any existing food, and to preserve any food left behind after the cyclone. Then we had to think about what food would grow the fastest. We needed to balance the rice the government was giving families on Tanna with fruit and vegetables to have a nutritious diet."

Over 80 per cent of Tanna's annual coffee harvest was lost as a result of the cyclone. So coffee was part of the farmers' mid to long-term food security and cash crop strategy.

A few months after Cyclone Pam, there was another disaster, El Nino. "We saw a lot of malnutrition in our children around that time. The most affected area was North Tanna where they weren’t able to grow many vegetables due to the tricky climate. We secured a water system so communities could grow different types of vegetables for those kids, and they distributed them to their wider community. Our farmers were proud to be giving these children a balanced diet. The local doctor was really thankful to Nasi Tuan for this and told us that malnutrition rates went down because of what we'd done."

What’s been your farmers’ biggest struggle with growing coffee?

“For subsistence farmers, quality control is not naturally part of their culture, that’s our farmers’ biggest struggle. Quality control to export green coffee beans takes seven steps that must be rightly followed, but our farmers have other priorities as well. If any step is missed, it can affect everything. It takes time to work alongside our farmers so they adopt this technique.”

What’s been your farmers’ biggest success with growing coffee?

“Our greatest success is the income that comes from exporting the coffee and the impact this makes on our farmers’ lives. Farmers don’t have to leave to work in Port Vila like they used to, and they can send their children to school now, where previously they couldn't. That’s why we want to bring a greater understanding to farmers of what happens at the other end of the coffee bean process. So they know they don’t just get the money once they’ve exported the beans, quality matters! They have to understand and own the whole value chain of the coffee, the whole system, that’s what leads to sustainability."

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How is climate change affecting the farming communities on Tanna Island?

“Climate change is a very high threat for not only the people of Tanna but the people of Vanuatu. Vanuatu is the most at-risk country in the world to cyclones. We expect a cyclone every year now. So we have to develop other crops than coffee to mitigate against cyclones. We have to grow short-term crops like peanuts and vegetables to maintain food security.

"We also must continue calling upon bigger countries to help. It’s not only up to us to create the solution, but it's also about all of us working together. Bigger countries need to think about the small countries living in the ocean and work with us to form a long-term solution to climate change.”

What’s something you’ve learnt on your visit here in NZ?

“On my visit here to meet with Mojo in Wellington, I’ve learnt how complex the process after green coffee is. I thought you just roasted the green beans and that’s it! But it’s much more complex with roasting and grading it etc. I have realised how much quality relates to price, the quality of the coffee beans is so important. I’m excited to transfer this learning to our farmers, to ensure the quality is consistently good, to get good prices and make it worth the farmers’ effort.”

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