Smelling the coffee
Jamie Kyles, Sc’71, is an ardent kite-surfer, a sport he took up five years ago while on a holiday in the Dominican Republic. He’s since surfed on four different continents, and this year he’ll be surfing in Vietnam. But much as he loves the exhilaration of wind and spray on his face, a deeper pleasure would be if he could venture from home in Victoria, BC, and return to the shores of Lake Victoria in northwest Tanzania to fully implement a project he initiated in 2008-09 while working as a volunteer with CUSO-VSO.
His vision is to secure a five-year interest-free loan of $30,000 – to be matched by the Roman Catholic lay apostolate Kolping Society of Tanzania (KST) – that will enable him to return to Bukoba to complete a KOLCAFÉ project. That initiative aims to increase coffee yields on small holder farms using fertilizers, education, and loans, and to promote sustainable organic farming practices. Jamie has been to Bukoba twice: once on his own and the second time with his wife Christine (Bunner) Kyles, Ed’71, who taught high school there.
During the last half of his 30-year career as a petroleum geologist with Shell Oil in Calgary, Jamie gained relevant business skills working as a middle and senior manager. Kenyan farmers who came to the large project meetings in Bukoba didn’t know this and questioned him about his “farming background” – his coffee-growing experience in Canada. Even when they discovered he was not a coffee farmer, they realized that this silver-haired man from the other side of the world, his words translated into Swahili, was providing them with sound advice.
According to a Kolping brochure, coffee is the second largest traded commodity by value on the planet, after oil. Jamie’s initiative is to increase the yield of small farm stakeholders. No quantum physics here for our engineering grad, just solid agronomics and business management. “I identified three key strategies: enrich the soil and buy proper pruning tools, change marketing practices, and construct value-adding infrastructure,” he says.
Enthusiasm never leaves Jamie’s voice as he talks about his African experience. “I had fun with Shell, but I never did anything that comes close to the feeling I get that comes from working with these amazing people.”
KOLCAFÉ is a dynamic project that was recognized in 2009 by the United Nations SEED competition for development projects. It placed in the top 20 out of 1,140 submissions – an example of the many ways that CUSO-VSO is making a difference around the world.-- By Shannon Lee Mannion, Artsci’88