Separating out coffee pulp and using Vetiver grass to absorb wastewater is very effective in keeping pollution out of the Sidama coffee region’s rivers. However, it is important that we also address one of the root causes of the problem: the large amount of water used by traditional wet mills. That water, after all, is what becomes the wastewater.
Our advisors always discuss options for reducing water usage with the mill owners and operators. Some of the best approaches, such as replacing older disc pulpers with new eco-pulpers, require fairly significant investments, and we have worked with owners and operators to examine these options. But even those who are unable to make that kind of investment can still cut their water usage.
One of the first steps is to build consciousness around the importance of water. We speak with owners, managers and workers about the key role that water, and specifically clean water, plays as a limited resource. We also show the owners how they could save on energy expenses if they had to pump less water from the river. Building on that, we discuss simple steps that everyone can take to reduce water usage, like turning off the taps when they are not needed or recirculating water. These discussions have translated into concrete actions. One wet mill manager said, “Now, I am confident in saying that every worker of the wet mill knows how to use water wisely. We have a sign in the wet mill area that says ‘Close the tap right after using the water.’”
We also work with mill management to help them track their water usage during the coffee harvest. This might include installing a water meter or measuring the water tank and making calculations based on those measurements. Either way, with this data, mill operators can identify when they are using the most water and seek out solutions.
So far, there has been a significant impact in the water usage and energy consumption at those mills participating in the Water Wise Coffee program; and because the energy savings boost the mills’ profits, they are likely to be sustained. As the mill manager said, “We proved the cost advantage of the wise use of water… by comparing the amount of fuel we used for pumping the water these days [to the amount used] previously, before the intervention of TechnoServe. There is a significant difference in fuel consumption; we reduced the amount of fuel by using the water wisely.”