We believe that the world’s greatest challenges will never be solved by one person or organization alone. We need to work together! We are introducing our new series #MeetTheCreators with a monthly interview with a member showing his/her impact and work for reaching the sustainable development goals.
Meet our SDG this month:
The Sustainable Development Goal Nr 1 wants to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.
Meet our creator this month:
|Organisation:||Taste of Kenya|
|SDG:||Nr 1 – No Poverty|
In my conversation with Zipporah I learn why in Kenya coffee is too expensive to drink for the farmers who grow it in the first place and am once more reminded that simple dreams can be complex to achieve.
Zipporah, you are running a coffee company called Taste of Kenya, could you share your story with us?
I was born in Kenya and left when I was 18 and studied, lived and worked between London and Dublin. Four years ago during a trip to Kenya I visited my grandma who lives close to Mount Kenya where coffee is grown. That particular trip, my grandma’s farm looked very different. The farm has five hectares of land and used to be full of coffee trees. But now, half of the trees were cut down and my grandma was now growing bananas, avocados and other vegetables.
I remember asking her why she would cut down the coffee trees to plant other crops. Living in the UK at the time, I knew that Kenyan coffee was selling well and at a high price. But my grandma told me, there was no money in coffee. At the end of the trip I sent an email to my uncle asking him how much my grandma was making with her coffee? His response really saddened me as what she was making in a year, was what I was making in a day as an IT contractor in the banking industry.
How did you start exploring possible ways of solving the problem you had just learned about?
At the same time I had just enrolled into my MBA at London Business School. I went back to my professor and told him, I was going through a career crisis, because I couldn’t justify that I make so much more than my grandmother who is working so much harder than me. I started researching the supply chain and found out that this issue was not only affecting my grandmother, but many more farmers than my grandmother. The farmer was the first person to sell their coffee then the coffee travelled 5 levels up to the buyer. When the buyer finally paid for the coffee the money travelled 5 levels back down to the farmer. What was left at the very end was what the farmer got – and that was always the lowest.
In the meantime, because it took 6 months for the money to come in, the farmers went back to the cooperative to get a loan that came with a high interest rate. Due to this when the farmer finally received the money from their coffee, they ended up owing the cooperative.
Was there any other source of support available to the farmers?
When the government found out that this was happening they started to pay back the loans of the farmers to the cooperatives as part of a forgiveness scheme, to help the farmers continue farming coffee. But then the entire cycle of debt started to happen again.
Through planting other crops that ripen faster – as bananas – or that make more money – as avocados – the farmers could at least feed their families.
What where you first steps in solving the problem?
The year after my initial trip, I bought 300 kilos of coffee from my grandmother and sold it at a trade show in Dublin. I sold it for more than the money my grandma would make for 3000 kilos and gave her the money. Seeing the impact it had on my grandmother was incredible.
The next year in 2015 I sold coffee at the trade show again and realised there is a lot of money that could be passed back to the farmers. I started to receive a lot of requests from other farmers and through the pressure of knowing there were many more farmers out there struggling I started working on it full-time. I went on to participate in Mass Challenge and then applied successfully to join the Kickstart Accelerator in Zürich. Since then I am actively selling coffee in the market in the UK and Switzerland.
How do you choose the farmers you work with?
We work with small farmer holders. We go and taste their coffee and if it is good enough quality we work with them. If the quality is not good enough, we add them to a waiting list and work with them over the next 6-12 months to have them reach the quality we expect at the next harvest. Sometimes the farmers are picking the coffee too early or they are not adding the right manure to the crop. Right now, we work with 15 farmers and have over 1000 on the waitlist.
What are the advantages for the farmers to work with you?
What we do is paying them instantly for the coffee we buy off them. And if we trade it for more because the quality is great, then we pay them the balance. And we pay them over 5 times of what they are currently earning. As a company we are on a race to find enough coffee buyers to be able to link with all the farmers who want to work with us.
Who are your allies?
The government, the farmers and Bühler, a Swiss company, that is one of the biggest producers of industrial coffee roasting machines globally.
One of the challenges we had to tackle as a buyer was, that we only wanted high grades of coffee to export. The farmers were limited by that as they couldn’t sell us their best coffee to us, then go back to the cooperative to sell them the reminder. The cooperatives would not accept that.
Bühler, whom we met at Mass challenge found out about our problem and offered us a roasting machine. With the Bühler machine we are now roasting coffee and selling it back to the local market in Kenya. Prior farmers were not able to drink their own coffee because it was too expensive for them. By doing so giving the farmer an additional market for their coffee as well.
What is your experience like bringing farmers and big coffee companies together?
Last year we took coop to Kenya, before they took a decision on working with us. One of the farmers we visited thanked us. She was probably in her early 80s. She was almost in tears because for the first time in her life a potential buyer cared that she wasn’t paid enough and asked her questions about her life and work. We didn’t end up getting the contract with coop, but for the farmers, the visit was really important. They felt like they have a voice. They really just wanted to be treated fairly and have transparency.
Why is it so hard to find companies that want to collaborate with you?
Fair-trade certification – and that eliminates me as a source. Because I would have to go to the farmer and say – before I can pay you well, you have to get audited and certified and that takes a year or 18 months and then we can go back to the market with their coffee.
What might be a possible solution to this conundrum?
What has to be done – people have to look at transparency in a different way. We need labels that clearly show how much of the money the consumer is paying is going back to the farmer and not just having a label that goes back to the producer.
There is a very interesting project in Canada, it’s a company called the Shore Fast Foundation. They produce local products for a small community in Canada and provide an economic nutrition label that shows what amount is going to whom in the production and distribution process. We want to do something similar for Taste of Kenya and show how much are expenses, how much goes to the company, how much goes to the farmer.
Can you summarise for us how you are contributing to SDG 1 NO Poverty?
First, we pay the farmer instantly and by doing so improve the economic model in the coffee industry. We also enable and encourage local consumption and try to increase the wages that are going back to the farmers. What I am most proud of as a company is we run mentoring programs for youth to get them interested in farming again. Kenya has a really high unemployment rate and by giving them jobs as coffee roasters or to re-plant coffee trees we are reducing unemployment.
If you had a wish free from the Impact Hub community – what would it be?
From the new year we will be selling coffee directly to the end-consumers. If you want to try our coffee you will be able to order it from our website. Also, we grow through sharing our story. Follow, like and share our stories and share the message of the impact we are trying to achieve.
What keeps me going is that one day – I want my grandmother to get on a flight to Zurich and visit a coffee shop stocking her coffee and see people enjoying the coffee she has worked so hard to grow and produce. To really bring together producing and buyer nations.
Sonja Bichsel, Storytelling, Communications, Civic participation, Education & Coaching