Dr Mizeck Chagunda: Coffee from Scots soil nurtured in Malawi

Coffee was first introduced to Malawi from Scotland with a plant from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Coffee was first introduced to Malawi from Scotland with a plant from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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BRAND has helped children gain education, writes Dr Mizeck Chagunda

I’m not the first to sit here in Edinburgh’s Elephant House Café-Restaurant, thinking what to write next. Whilst I live and work in Dumfries in Agriculture, Malawi is where I’m from, but my coffee originates in Scotland! In the 1870s, coffee was introduced to Malawi for the first time from Scotland with a plant from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Around 150 years later, the coffee has ‘come home’ to Scotland, thanks to the down-to-earth people to people bonds between our two nations.

McDonald Nguluwe (his fine name hints at this international friendship), a well-respected coffee farmer and dad is one of a democratic group of 2,500 small-holders, a quarter of whom are women, who own the assets of their collective growing, processing and sales activities. Malawi has a population of around 16 million people, 80 per cent are farmers and with half of the population living on less than £1 a day, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Ask McDonald why coffee-growing matters in Malawi and he smiles: “I am so proud that, because of my coffee income, I have been able to send all of my children to school in Mzuzu.”

Hope is an important commodity in the face of dwindling tobacco prices which have traditionally accounted for around two-thirds of Malawi’s exports, worth $300 million. Coffee is a commodity that has the potential to translate into hard cash – a sustainable income stream for smallholders providing foreign exchange which is at the heart of Malawi’s plan for financial recovery. As Bernard Kaunda, Head of Operations at the Mzuzu Co-op explains: “Just 10,000 hectares of coffee would return approximately $100m, based on producing 2 tonnes per hectare and selling at $5 per kg.”

It is in large part thanks to the directors of the Elephant House, the managing director of tea and coffee merchants, Brodies and the celebrated author, Alexander McCall Smith that we can enjoy this coffee in Scotland. Like me, all are enchanted by the fact that this coffee sprang from Scottish soil, that a plant from the Botanics, nurtured in Malawi over generations has today produced a world-class Arabica coffee, which stands to help transform some lives in Malawi.

Last year, Scottish-based world authorities on coffee contributed to a Scottish Government-funded coffee ‘bible’ which is bringing the very latest international know-how on coffee to our Mzuzu farmers.

Now Alexander McCall Smith has gifted use of the name of his global hit series 44 Scotland Street, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, to create a Scotland Street Coffee brand. The sales of this will support small-holder farmers like McDonald and enable girls in Malawi to receive a secondary school education.

Brodies are roasting and packaging the Malawian coffee at cost and donating all profits from the sale of Scotland Street Coffee to the Mamie Martin Fund (www.mamiemartin.org) a Scottish charity which pays for the tuition fees, textbooks and uniforms for girls in Malawi. The Elephant House championed Malawian coffee over the summer, generating sales and paving the way for this development. Alexander McCall Smith has also written a special-edition story which begins on the coffee’s beautiful labels, (designed with talent and goodwill by Edinburgh-based illustrator, Iain McIntosh), and continues online. The Scotland Street Coffee initiative is supported by the Scotland Malawi Partnership. Coming from the warm heart of Africa, I invite you to try this, the closest thing to ‘Scottish coffee’.

• Dr Mizeck Chagunda is co-vice-chair of the Scotland Malawi Partnership (www.scotland-malawipartnership.org) and senior scientist at SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College (www.sruc.ac.uk)

• For a list of stockists, visit: www.scotland-malawipartnership.org