I am a sustainable coffee advocate for coffee growers, producers and consumers.
Hello, my name is Nicole Motteux. I’m a sustainable coffee advocate, based in Adelaide, South Australia.
I’m passionate about the people behind the bean, their stories, livelihoods and futures.
My goal is to promote the values of responsibly produced and environment friendly quality coffee. This kind of coffee production builds pathways to sustainable livelihoods for all involved. In particular, the women and youth who plant the coffee, process and trade the beans, and brew and serve this fabulous drink.
My story with coffee started a long time ago.
I grew up on a coffee plantation in Zimbabwe
I grew up on an Arabica coffee plantation in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. My father was a coffee farming pioneer in the early days of Zimbabwe’s specialty Arabica production.
During the 1980 -1990s, this perfect coffee growing land was known for its consistently high quality Arabica coffee, reliable yields and good agricultural practices and processing backed by research. It was also a time when many Zimbabweans were employed in the coffee industry – on farms, in processing plants and in transport and trade services.
I learned the importance of adequate institutional support, business environment, good agricultural practices, research and development, market information, value added agriculture and diversification.
I also understood the yearly lows and highs of the local and international coffee markets, and how they were influenced by crop pests, diseases, droughts, frosts and political changes.
I learned what it meant to be part of a global coffee community. What happens in other coffee countries impacted directly on our operations from market forecasts and growth opportunities to target markets and key players.
Even before the days of the internet, we knew all about our global competitors from their levels of production to weather events (drought, floods and frosts) pest outbreaks and even labour availability and costs.
Supporting Zimbabwe’s small-scale coffee growers
I learned so much about coffee farming from my father. He was an advocate for research and development, sharing lessons learned and growing the Zimbabwean coffee industry as a whole.
Before 2000, there were around 180 medium to large family farms, 3,000 small-scale producers and a handful of corporate estates.
In between managing the estate, my father worked with the small-scale coffee producers, many of whom struggled with food insecurity, ageing farming communities, low productivity, ageing coffee trees, expensive fertilisers, environmental challenges such as soil erosion and degradation, and poor waste water management.
My father’s contributions to a better coffee system were embraced by the Coffee Growers Association and became widely adopted by other coffee growers in Zimbabwe. In 1981, he received the National Coffee Grower of the Year Award.
Instability and change in Africa
The 1980’s was also the decade that Mugabe came to power in Zimbabwe, beginning a dictatorial reign that would last 40 years.
In the late 1990s, my life with coffee led me to complete a PhD in South Africa, exploring social and anthropological concepts in the former homeland of Ciskei, Eastern Cape. The focus of my work was participatory development and water resource management.
It was a time of great changes in South Africa too – Nelson Mandela, the removal of apartheid, and the creation of new political and institutional structures which impacted the business environment in both positive and negative ways.
Collapse of Zimbabwe’s coffee industry
I returned to Zimbabwe several times in the late 1990s to conduct research with small scale coffee growers and my father, linked to Rhodes University. I found that many smallholder coffee growers struggled to connect to markets, access finance and find information with limited infrastructure and services. Thus, the growers stayed poor and the land they relied on for survival was not cared for as well as it should have been.
In 2000, things took a bleak turn. Zimbabwe’s flourishing coffee industry collapsed due to Mugabe’s land reforms and violent decolonisation policies. Our family lost our farm and had to leave Zimbabwe.
This traumatic time taught me the real essentials of a sustainable coffee industry. It must be built on good governance, an enabling business environment with zero tolerance for corruption, and business approaches that empower women and youth.
Read more about my passion for the African coffee industry.
PhD on participatory water management in South Africa
My PhD was funded by the South African Water Research Commission and Forestry, in collaboration with the Department of Water Affairs. My goal was to understand how to enhance stakeholder participation in water resource management to contribute to resource management, economic development and improve the lives of those living in poverty.
My research was nominated for a national award.
In fact, it helped to shift participatory development approaches from the margins to mainstream South African water policy. I contributed to the National Guidelines on the establishment and management of catchment forums and wrote the Reference Guide on Participation in Integrated Water Resource Management.
In 1998, the new National Water Act from Nelson Mandela’s government changed from ‘top down’ approaches of “telling people what to do” to involving people to find solutions.
For the first time, poor communities as well as growers and businesses, had guaranteed access to water.
My research and field project aided this change of governmental attitude by using participatory tools to support learning and giving all people a voice in their development. This meant that everybody had a clear understanding of what needed to be done, when, and by whom.
I used a broad spectrum of approaches from Theatre for Development, Rapid Appraisal, Participatory Rural Appraisal, Action Learning, Participatory Geographical Information Systems, all backed with scientific and policy assessments inclusive of children, women, men, the poor, commercial growers and Government. It led to form one of South Africa’s first Catchment For and Water Users Association.
Beyond Africa – engaging with coffee growers in Asia
I’ve spent the last 20 years working as a community participation and environment management specialist in southern Africa, southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific.
Integral to my work is finding ways to effectively engage with people, develop relationships and earn trust. At the heart of this is valuing people’s knowledge and expertise and providing meaningful, targeted and relevant support.
Understanding what communities want is the key to sustainability.
That’s why I love working directly with communities, to discover what people want and need and feel.
There’s little point making decisions and providing systems and assets that aren’t wanted or appreciated by the community.
I’ve worked in community-development programs that incorporate stakeholder participation, behaviour change communication, markets for the poor and gender mainstreaming approaches. That means sharing access to knowledge, peer to peer mentoring, innovative learning, demonstrations, and linking services to increase productivity. It’s all about scaling up and building on to foster landscape change.
Need an experienced coffee researcher and consultant?
A return to small scale coffee farming
In 2015, I found myself back in the coffee fields with ethnic minority communities in Lao P.D.R and Vietnam. I was working with CARE Demark and Olam – Laos Outspan Bolovens Ltd to design programs between rural poverty-stricken communities and the private sector to promote adoption of more productive systems (i.e. production that is less polluting and more resource efficient).
I also spent 5 years in Vietnam working to engage key coffee players to switch behaviour of coffee growers, market intermediaries (e.g. financial service providers, input suppliers, collectors) and commercial traders to sustainable production approaches.
More recently, in 2016-2017, I prepared a series of detailed coffee origin case studies with CARE in Laos. The case studies reviewed the contribution of coffee production to household consumption and expenditure in Sekong Province, Duk Chueng District.
Participatory farmer meetings with coffee growers, government agencies, coffee collectors, market intermediaries, commodity traders and coffee retailers gave insights into a myriad of challenges and opportunities to increase productivity and quality to enable a sustainable response.
I was part of a group of coffee enthusiasts in Laos that organised the 2016 “Love of Coffee” event. With support from the International Coffee Organisation, we held the first Coffee International Day in Laos in. In 2018, we again worked together to celebrate “Women in Coffee” in Laos.
Writing about the social realities of coffee production
Back in Australia, I write articles that explore my love of coffee in times and places across the world. I work with a small team to develop, research and edit the stories that are a mix of facts, people’s stories and photographs.
I also give talks and speak at coffee events. I have a bottomless cup of stories, anecdotes, characters and experiences from my 20 years of field and research experience. I enjoy supporting all kinds of people in the coffee industry from certifiers and baristas to café owners and customers, both in Australia and around the world.
I love sharing their experiences, taking photos and understanding the challenges and opportunities in the industry. I also enjoy working with these stakeholders to explore solutions to the business and quality coffee challenges they face.
Through all of this, I’ve learned seen that you have to listen to what people truly want and need – and women are often the best judge of this in a community – to really make a lasting difference. Working in partnerships is the key to sustainable change.
That’s why I believe that as coffee consumers, we need to partner with ethical, sustainable businesses that support the people growing and producing the coffee.
Want to see change in the coffee industry? Let’s have a coffee.