Coffee has a fraught history and it would be a lie to say that its present is clean of hardship. Corruption plays a massive role in the chain on the ground for farmers in some producing countries, and across our favoured origins producers are living in poverty; but change is possible, and importers are often the first steps to change. Trabocca’s work in bringing a fairer system to the farmers of Kenya is in its second inception, after a difficult ending to what was coined by farmers themselves as the “Kenyan Coffee Revolution.”
For farmers in Kenya there can be a conspiratorial element that takes over after their coffee is handed to the mill - a mill owner, a middleman agent, and the cooperative board directors work together in order to keep the price of coffee low and their profit margin high.
Once farmers have harvested their coffee and handed it over to a processing mill they no longer have ownership or control of their product, and often to do not receive payment for it until 6 months after harvesting which creates another problem for farmers - how to buy the necessary items for another season of growing as well as the ability to feed themselves and their families. The only solution for farmers is to take out a loan, which is often high interest and can typically have an interest rate of 20% - keeping the farmers locked into poverty.
In 2020 importers Trabocca founded a new project with one aim in mind - to change the widespread system that operates in Kenya’s coffee world. After The Economist reported a 40% decline in the production of coffee due to all the factors outlined above, Trabocca went to Nyeri to understand more about what was facing the farmers in Kenya, and discovered a large majority of farmers were turning their backs on coffee. Kenya is known to some as the “Champagne region” of coffee, sitting in the centre of the coffee belt; an important origin with cups that match up to the name - something that Trabocca wanted to save and nurture for the future.
Starting with the board of Ndaroini, Trabocca agreed to raise prices from 60 kenyan shillings to 100 - the equivalent of 1 USD per kilo, a massive change for the mill which the farmers welcomed; farmers also now sold directly to Trabocca, getting rid of the extra steps that funnel so much money from their crop.
Operations ceased in 2021 after corruption was discovered amongst board members. Disappearing pre-finances and going against contractual agreements forced Trabocca to end the collaboration. Old habits and ways die hard it seems. The continuation of the project and its goals remained a key idea for Trabocca, and they re-initiated the project with the Thiriku Cooperative, where our latest washed Kenya is from.
Important aspects of what made Ndaroini great have been carried over into the Thiriku Cooperative, including better costs for kilos and low loan rates for the up-keep of factories, alongside a focus on improving agronomy education for the farmers involved; this helps to scale up production for farmers, going from producing 170,000kg of coffee per year, to 400-600,000 kg over the next few years.
Despite the difficulties Trabocca faced with their first project in Kenya, we hope the second coming of it will prove successful and grow in order to keep Kenya’s incredible coffee output alive, and most importantly bring a higher quality of life to those who work so hard farming it. We’re happy to buy coffee from this union, and our Thiriku is a perfect example of thick, syrupy, jammy deliciousness which Kenya can produce so well.