Author Archive

Clean Cookstoves in Uganda

By Paul Katzeff, CEO + Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee Company

In 2012 Thanksgiving Coffee Company, in collaboration with the Mirembe Kawomera Board and members, began a Climate change mitigation initiative in the foothills of Mt. Elgon, with the cooperative. The first phase was tree planting, and the project had these basic principles at its core:

  • The trees would provide shade to keep the ground cool and moist
  • The trees would enhance the habitat for indigenous birds and other wildlife
  • Deep root systems of trees holds the moisture in the soil and brings nutrients from deep in the ground to the surface via leaf litter produced by the trees. This makes the soil more fertile.
  • The trees soften the impact of rainstorms and mitigate against runoff that carries away topsoil
  • Shade improves the health of coffee trees as well as the flavor profile.
  • Trees produce wood for cooking and reduce the need for long distance hauling of wood
  • Trees bring up the water table and enable the ground to hold more water
JB Birenge, Climate Change Mitigation project leader in 2012 (photo credit: Ben Corey Moran)

JB Birenge, Climate Change Mitigation project manager in 2012 (photo credit: Ben Corey Moran)

There remained a problem.

The coop members were relying on the climate change mitigation tree planting as a source of firewood for their open fire cooking. Open fires are a simple but extremely wasteful way to build a cook fire, so the coop members decided that if they had more efficient ways to cook, they would lower their use of firewood. This plan was the best way to allow the trees to grow to maturity before being sustainably pruned for firewood, and thus was born “The Clean Cookstove Project.”
Rock fire rings are traditionally used to cook food

Rock fire rings are traditionally used to cook food

In partnership with Carrotmob, Thanksgiving Coffee Company raised $4,600 in a crowd-funding campaign. The funds were allocated for the Clean Cookstove project. The General Manager of the cooperative designed the project,  researched the methodology, hired local craftsmen and women, gathered materials, and began building the stoves in April of this year. In this first phase of the project, 46 families will receive the stoves. Families with children, older people and single parent families were chosen by the coop as are recipients of the first 46 stoves. The plan is to expand the program so all 300 coop member families eventually have one built for them in their homes.

The benefits of clean cookstoves are many.

Obviously, better respiratory health and easier fuel collecting because these stoves use 1/10 the fuel to produce a cooked meal. That means more time to attend school, make music, do homework or whatever leisure time is used for in a small village at the base of a mountain, where there is no cafe to hang out, no community center, and where electricity is limited to a few outlets per square mile. We are proud to be associated with this project – happier, healthy coffee farmers means a better world, and better coffee.

Aisa Kainza with her Clean Cookstove

Aisa Kainza with her Clean Cookstove

I am currently in Uganda, on a trip that was planned back in February when I was last in Africa.

Much has happened since, including a clear Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines our and the Cooperatives responsibilities and expectations from the relationship we have created. The goal of this trip is mostly oversight. We are advancing funds to the Cooperative to double its washing station capacity. This will require a solar drying system of greatly increased capacity, and a financial system that is going to handle twice the amount of money, double the volume of coffee, and provide more transparency. We are building capacity and the requirement for a higher level of professional financial management will be required as soon as this next crop is ready in September. That is in about 60 days!

There is lots to do – and we want to be a part of the doing.

To be continued…
-Paul

A Trip to Africa: Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

But what about the other 250 sacks along that back wall? Where did that come from and how did it pass  defect inspection? And where was it going? Who had produced it, who had sold it? Who had purchased it and who had financed it? This was on my mind as we hit the road to Gumutindo’s dry mill, and it would play an important role in the days to come.

The Mystery Sacks Against Wall

These mystery sacks of zero defect, 17 screen (large bean size) ready for export coffee were a sharp contrast to the coffee in parchment set aside for Thanksgiving Coffee’s shipment. Where did they come from? We asked the Board and the General Manager. It was as if we had caught a thief . They could not account for the purchases . There was no record of this coffee being purchased by the cooperative from its members.
Then, as the pressure built for disclosure ( I threatened to dissolve our relationship of 10 years) JJ, the cooperative’s founder revealed that the coffee was for Coexist, a Washington DC based charity with whom Thanksgiving Coffee had developed a relationship a year before.
The Mystery SacksCoexist had found the Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative through Thanksgiving Coffee’s website and since it was compatible with their mission, they contacted us to ask if we would help them create a Coexist Package to sell Mirembe Kawomera coop coffee to help raise funds for the Interfaith school that the coop members sent their children to in Mbale. We saw this as a win for the Interfaith Community and for Thanksgiving Coffee. We were going to sell more of the this coffee, and share it’s story with a wider audience!
We spent much of the fall of 2013 creating a Coexist package. It should only have taken a couple of weeks but the Coexist people just kept leaving Thanksgiving Coffee’s decade of work out of the story both on their package and on their web site. We finally came to a set of compromises which enabled the bag printers to get the packaging complete and we began to fill their orders and although our story was not all over their web and package, we looked forward to their selling the cooperative’s coffee.
Now, this organization was going around Thanksgiving Coffee, buying directly from the Cooperative. I was shocked and angry. It is one thing to not represent us in the development of the story and how we brought this incredible Interfaith story to the world (and the reason Coexist executives were able to discover them), but it is quite another thing to disrupt a business relationship based on a decade of trust and mutual inspiration.
Art on the Wall

That is enough reading for today. In my next post I will tell you how we handled this situation, how it changed our plans for the next three days of our trip and caused Nick and I to re-route out flight back thru Washington DC to meet with Coexist’s Executives.

I took this photo of a local artists interpretation of a street market. Total Chaos! The picture was hanging in our Hotel Lobby.

A Trip to Africa: Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

In Mbale we stayed at a youth Hostel that has a Cafe that serves western style food that looks and tastes familiar. We had lunch there and met with the USAID Chief. It’s the kind of place where the average age of the people who hang out there is 20-something.

Peace Corps workers and backpackers can live there for $14.00 per night in a small private room or ‘Dormitory style’ for $5.00 per night,  wake up in the morning and have a perfect Latte at the espresso bar in the lobby.

The story became different once we got into the world that the story was taking place. Theories are mental, the real world is physical.

Below is a picture I took after the Board Meeting we had with the Mirembe Kawomera Board.

PKC Warehouse
 
What do we see in this picture?

1. Coffee in burlap sacks against the back wall with Peace Kawomera (PKC) lettering
2. A concrete floor with someone sleeping on a mat
3. A hand operated machine that is used to remove parchment from beans that have dried in the sun after the cherry pulp has been removed
4. White open sacks of coffee in parchment

This picture uncovered a different set of issues. Where did the 250 burlap sacks come from and where were they going? They were ready for export while our coffee was ready to be taken to the mill in town to be “readied for export.”

This was the warehouse under the offices where we met the Board for discussion of the issues we came to resolve (late shipment, blending of coffees, verification of the sources of the coffee). As an aside, the PKC offices were in a building that was only half completed. In 2010, USAID funded the building of a small central coffee washing station. Thanksgiving Coffee’s rebates to the cooperative provided their in-kind contribution to the Grant. Unfortunately, there was embezzlement of funds by the coop’s GM who ran off with funds, and the Founder of the Coop was removed from the Board. USAID withdrew its remaining funds – and the building remains built but without a completed interior (no doors on offices , no paint on walls, No tables or chairs) and remains a shabby edifice that one would find hard to be proud of.

Gumatindo's TruckParchment coffee is not green coffee. Parchment has to be milled off of the green beans so the green beans can be graded for percentage of defects. (broken beans, insect eaten beans, unripe beans, black beans, sticks, pebbles etc). Quality is related to the number of defects contained. Gumutindo, the secondary coop that is made up of 15 primary cooperatives of which PKC is but one member, accepts up to 7% defects. Anything over that needs to be sorted and picked out of the delivery to get the percentage down to 4%.

If a coop delivers parchment coffee and there are more then 4% defects, they are deducted .02 cents per pound for each percent over 4%. The coffee in the open sacks had been delivered to the mill and tested, and showed 12% defects. That coffee had been rejected by the mill on our behalf – twelve pounds of defects per hundred makes for a very rough tasting coffee.

 

So, the sacks were brought back to the PKC warehouse to await my arrival – perhaps they thought I would have some “pull” at the Mill to get the coffee through. This was not exactly the way the problem was presented to me by the PKC management. They pointed fingers and said they were being picked on and that was why they wanted me, their buyer, to front for them at the mill. I thought this sounded legitimate, so I went to the GM at Gumutindo that afternoon to plead their case.

On the road to GumatindoWillington, the GM of Gumutindo who has visited me in California, offered to send his truck to pick up the parchment coffee and re-test it in front of the PKC Board. That way, they could see for themselves just what the defect percentage was in the batch of coffee slated for Thanksgiving Coffee Company from their 2013 crop.

But what about the other 250 sacks along that back wall? Where did that come from and how did it pass  defect inspection? And where was it going? Who had produced it, who had sold it? Who had purchased it and who had financed it? This was on my mind as we hit the road to Gumutindo’s dry mill, and it would play an important role in the days to come.

 

We arrived at the dry mill (Gumutindo) that afternoon with the Board members of the cooperative to witness the grading process. It’s a simple process – first, a long pointed metal tube is thrust into a sack of parchment coffee and withdrawn filled with a sample from that sack. This is repeated on another ten sacks, each providing a small sample (about a half pound). The multiple samples are aggregated into a single sample from which 250 grams are taken and placed in a moisture meter.
The sample must come in under 13% moisture. Then, 100 grams are put through a hand crank parchment removal device and the green beans are then winnowed to remove dust and small pieces of parchment. The beans are then clean, and ready to be inspected for defects, which are sorted out by hand and eye inspection. There was an air of anxiety as the head sorter picked at the 100 gram sample.
The defects are placed in a tray for all to see and agree on. Then they are weighed. This sample came out 9%. Again, too high for their Dry Mill to accept. Now there was a problem. I don’t want nine pounds of defects in every 100 pounds of coffee. There is no way I could make that coffee taste good enough to sell. The coop had to make a decision. They could pay the woman sorters to remove enough defects to get the coffee down to 7% or they could haul the coffee back to their warehouse 20 Kilometers to the north and sort out the defects themselves. Otherwise they would have to negotiate with the woman on a price for sorting out 2% from 30,000 lbs of coffee (600 pounds of defects).

At Gumutindo, the sorters are independent contractors. They sit under a giant shade tree at the mill and spend their days picking out defects, damaged bean by damaged bean. Unlike the sorters in Central and South America who sit at a conveyor belt that carries an endless stream of coffee beans past silent, sitting women who pick passing defective beans out of the rapids, these woman socialize all day and pick at their own pace. A much more civilized way to do tedious work.

The coop board members voted to hire the sorters and sent a member of the Board to the tree to negotiate a price for the sorting. About 300 feet from the defect assessment station the woman sat and sorted, each with their own sack to clean, knowing just how many pounds were needed to be culled from each sack to get it into an acceptable range.
So now we had the 2014 crop due to be shipped to the US and arrive in May, being in the last phase before being put on a truck to travel to Mombasa where it will head south past Madagascar and round the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa and head across the Atlantic to The Panama Canal and up the west side of Central America toward its destination, The Port of Oakland.
With 2013 crop and its problems behind it, I turned back to solve the mystery of the 250 sacks that were unaccounted for, with 17 screen and zero defects. What was their story?
To be continued…

A Trip to Africa: Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Leaving Jinja

When we left Jinja, we left with a deep satisfaction, having met some really serious people who were in the beginnings of something great. Two hundred elders were one day away from receiving a “Certificate of Completion” for the nine month course in Asset Based Community Economic Development offered by The Communities of SHALOM in collaboration with Drew University. This 3 credit course will give them the tools they need to enter the 21st century global trading environment and may be the only educational accomplishment many of them obtain (The certificate will be of parchment suitable for framing). I can see it now, hanging on a wood slab on a simple brick wall, inside a 12’x12′ square room with a red dirt floor, the only adornment to be found on any of the walls in the home of that proud community leader (and Organic Robusta coffee grower)

Nick and I felt that our trip had an auspicious beginning. We had a two pound sample of what looked to be a beautifully prepared Organic Robusta which we hoped to “cup” when we got to Mbale, and we had a mutually agreed-to trading relationship started if the coffee proved to be of good quality. It was not my primary purpose to search for another cooperative to work with, especially a coop that had never sold a pound of coffee before, but I use about 75,000 pounds of Robusta each year in our very popular, high caffeine coffee “Pony Express” which I now buy from Importers.

IMG_0090At Thanksgiving Coffee go to great effort to make sure we know the farmers we buy from and work with them directly. It is essential to our buying plan that the price farmers receive is high enough that they WANT to continue growing coffee. We want the farmer to love their trees because those trees are providing food, clothing, shelter, health care and education for their family and community. Trees that are loved produce better coffee, they are no different than tomato plants or marijuana plants: care for them, love them, and they will respond. That is the key to sourcing great coffee and sustaining the farmers’ efforts. Quality of life and quality of coffee go hand in hand.

The road from Jinja to Mbale was red clay – dry and dusty. It’s the same material that most buildings are made from. A great and endless building material. This photo is rich in information. A dirt highway comes to a paved road with electricity poles and wires, a billboard advertising a soda of some kind, two motorcycles, people walking and a truck loaded with hand-sawed slab lumber driving to market. The trees are semi arid in their type, not at all tropical. In this dry, dusty Ugandan moment where the paved road began, I started to ready myself for the work ahead, the major reason for my 23 hour trip to the other side of the world – Uganda is 11 hours ahead of California time. Paved roads mean you are getting close to something!

At a gas station close to Mbale we came upon this sweet fruit vendor. We ate some bananas for lunch, something I don’t think of doing in the USA. Bananas in the tropics are like candy – and you look upon them as safe energy food. I thought I was taking a still shot but the video was on and I was lucky to get her little hip rotation presentation of her wares and that wonderful smile as it formed. She made me feel special in a male/female kind of way. I felt that she actually saw me more deeply then I could ever see her.

IMG_0109

Here you see the way they do building in Uganda. They are, surprisingly, not artisan bricklayers – they just are bricklayers. I could see holes in the backyard where the bricks came from: you rarely see truck loads of bricks being transported to building sites because the bricks are made on location.

I went to Uganda to visit the Interfaith Cooperative of Jews, Christians and Muslims called Mirembe Kawomera. This cooperative has an incredible story – and Thanksgiving Coffee Company became the story teller for this miraculous group. We have purchased their entire coffee crop each year since 2004, and their coffee has been Certified Fair Trade and Organic the entire time. We market this coffee to faith-based groups, Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and to people who believe in and work for Interfaith healing in a troubled world.

Peace Kawomera Sign

 This cooperative presents, perhaps the greatest coffee story ever told, and we have seen our efforts to promote this cooperative bring a modicum of fame (Oprah’s O Magazine) and recognition (Tufts University Jean Mayer Award). We sell the coffee to over 200 religous groups and congregations nationwide and our supply of green beans was running out when I left for Uganda. The supply was running out because the 2012 crop, which was slated to be shipped December 2012 and to arrive in Oakland in May 2013, was eight months late. I went to Mbale to find out why.

I had some clues before I left:

  1. The contract required that all the coffee be from the central washing station.
  2. In a Skype call to the Mirembe Kawomera Coop (PKC) manager ard the full Board back in October 1013, I  asked what was causing the delay and I was told that they could only produce 110 sacks that they brought through their washing station.

Because our contract was for 250 sacks (37,500 pounds purchased at $3.05/pound), they did not know what to do and were instructed by our Importer (in the USA) to blend in other Ugandan coffees with the washing station coffees to fill the container – and ship it to Thanksgiving Coffee Company for sale as PKC washing station coffee. This presented a problem of certifiable authenticity of the product Thanksgiving Coffee presents to our customers.

The system of authenticity had broken down and I was there to see if I could verify that 110 sacks were actually run through the central PKC washing station. I needed to verify that each farmer’s delivery was recorded with their name, amount paid and farm location – and that all of this was recorded in the Cooperative’s records for the Fair Trade and Organic Certifiers to verify through their own field trips to farms.

This was a serious effort on all our parts to get back on track. We all knew that the transparency issue is essential to the trust we use as a basis for working together. Similarly, our customers depend on trusting that what they wish to support is what they are buying – that their purchases are going toward the economic development of a community of courageous people who believed that by coming together in an interfaith coalition coffee cooperative, they could better their personal lives, and their community life as well.

Here’s a video clip from the first meeting to discuss our mission. I asked each member of the Board to help me remember each one of them when I got home because I was not good remembering names and putting them with faces.


To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 3 – On the Road

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Paul's Hotel in Uganda

After two days in Jinja in the poor countryside we would return to our hotel for a touch of our comfortable western style life. Hot showers, fruit sliced properly, Gin and Tonic: Uganda was a British Colony back 60 years ago. In the background you can see the Colonial Style architecture beyond the pool. The Hotel manager who came to greet us at our arrival was in a suit and tie, very British in accent. He was from South Africa and considered his “posting” here at the hotel as a purgatory and informed us he was leaving “his post” in two weeks to return to Johannesburg to resume his life.

Driving to Mbale, Uganda

In this photo, we are approaching the coffee growing region of Mt. Elgon, just outside of Mbale. In the distance you can see the mountain. It rises up rather spectacularly as you approach it.

Nick in a Tea Field

Here is my traveling partner, Mr. Nicholas Hoskyns. Nick is a Brit who lives in Nicaragua. He is an expert in many fields and specifically cooperative management and business practices. He is the President of a British Charity called ETICO, an acronym for “Ethical Trading Company.” Being British I thought it appropriate to photograph him in a tea field! In his hand he is holding “two leafs and a bud”, the most delicate of the new growth and most flavorful.

By this time, I was getting excited to visit the Mirembe Kawomera Fair Trade Cooperative. This is a cooperative that consists of Jews, Christians and Muslims who came together to work in a coffee cooperative system to obtain the benefits of selling into the Fair Trade and Organic specialty coffee export market. It is the only such Interfaith cooperative in the world and their story has been documented in a 60 minute documentary called “Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean.

The cooperative has been awarded many honors. Thanksgiving Coffee Company has promoted their coffee under the Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace) label since 2004 and promises that only the coffee that their members grow is found in the packages and that each package sold adds $0.25 cents to a fund that we send to them each year to be their “in kind” contribution when they seek grants for projects to improve their community. To date we have sent $95,000 and they have built a central coffee washing station with grants from USAID, a climate change program with a tree planting project and in the works for this year will be an expansion of their central washing station and a cupping lab for tasting their coffees of each farmer prior to export so they all can taste the fruits of their individual labor on their farms.

Last year, we had some hang-ups in the coffee supply chain. Mirembe Kawomera was unable to produce a full container of coffee for us and the shipment was eight months late. Orders were coming in and we could not substitute any other coffee for their package. What was going on? Nick came with me to examine the books and help with the supply chain logistics.

Roadside Store in Uganda

What’s going on in this photo? The facade on the store is a Persian mosaic – Muslim occupants I would guess. I probably could have gotten off here and settled into a simple life of walking two miles to get the day’s water from a well that ten kids were filling five gallon plastic containers for their families (40 pounds) and carrying it back many miles instead of being in school or playing little League baseball. Actually Uganda is soccer crazy. They seem to favor Arsenal in the Upper leagues of Europe.

Tomorrow we will visit the Mirembe Kawomera facilities to meet with their Board of directors and talk about their issues and my issues.

To be continued…
-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & The Dry Mill

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Mango Trees in Uganda

Our first day in Uganda was a real experience. The farmers met under a giant Mango tree that had just produced over 1,000 pounds of ripe mangoes and was beginning to flower for next year’s fruit. These trees grow wild and can be found everywhere. In the shade of the tree people danced and celebrated. The heart of Rock and roll and the Blues came from these people – I could feel the rhythms vibrate my body and I was moved to dance … but just couldn’t get in there with them. I felt the beat but didn’t feel I had the moves.

The kid who was drumming was good! (see below)

 

 

Roadside Crossroad in Uganda

Back on the road north to our primary Destination, The city of Mbale, the home of Mirembe Kawamera Cooperative. This is the famous interfaith cooperative of Jews, Christians and Muslims working together in a small outlying mountain village in the shadow of Mt. Elgon in the northeastern part of Uganda. This photo shows a typical roadside crossroad. Hard to say what is going on there but in the background is another Giant Mango tree and to the left down the road a couple of hundred feet are banana trees.

 

Roadside store in Uganda

This homestead along the road had solar electric panels right in front of their house.

 

Solar Panels in Uganda

The two hour trip from Jinja to Mbale was filled with a life force so different, visually. These pictures show how western culture mixes with people who have too little but need the same things we need. Food, clothing, shelter and commerce. This little store sells what is needed, not what is wanted. The difference narrows the selections down to what is available to sell.

Carrying Coffee Sacks in Uganda

This was our first destination in Mbale, The “dry mill” where our coffee is readied for export after being received from the primary cooperative in the mountains. This is where the coffee is graded (sorted) for defects and the parchment is milled off of the coffee and the burlap sacks are filled with 152 pounds of green coffee beans. Yes, those guys are carrying 150 lbs of coffee.

To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery
Day 6 – The Mystery Coffee’s Story

A Trip to Africa: Day 1 – Arriving In Uganda

In January 2014, CEO & Co-Founder Paul Katzeff traveled to Africa to meet with two of our producer cooperatives. In this blog series, Paul shares his experience in Uganda and Rwanda.

Lake Victoria - Uganda

We arrived in Uganda (Entebbe Airport) at midnight. In two hours we were in Jinja to visit a coffee cooperative that is producing organic Robusta coffee. This might be the only organic Robusta in the world – so I was eager to meet the farmers.

Our hosts and drivers were from Communities of Shalom, a US-based interfaith social justice organization based at Drew University that has been doing Economic Development work at the cooperative for the past nine months. They work to build community strength and empower coffee farmers to run their cooperatives effectively – so that they can benefit farmers and their families.

We awoke the following morning to see Lake Victoria from our hotel window. Lake Victoria is the headwaters to the Nile. I felt the water, just as I did the Mississippi River 50 years ago when I first crossed it. It felt good!

Coop Chairman's Farm in Uganda

On The Coop chairman’s farm we posed for a picture. Note the large Mango tree in the background and the Banana tree under it to the left.  The weather was mild, about 80 degrees, and the sun was beginning to warm the top of my head. Fredrick’s farm was about as self-sufficient food wise as one would enjoy here in the USA.

Mango & Banana trees
Here you can see the coffee trees being shaded by the Banana trees and the large trunk in the background of a very tall Mango tree shading all the undergrowth, keeping the ground cool and the moisture in this soil. I loved the Sign that reads “Organic Power Plant,” a broad-based double-meaning  set of words. One cow’s manure will fertilize 1,000 coffee trees per year and the urine tea provides nitrogen. No waste here. Plus, milk and cheese for the family. Organic Power Plant indeed!
Robusta drying
Robusta coffee is processed using what is called “The Dry Method.” The cherries put out in the sun to dry. Fredrick had some recent pickings drying on a plastic mat when we arrived and about another 25 pounds of ripe cherries ready for sun drying with the cherry pulp still on the cherry. You can see how they turn black when they dry. In this photo I am smelling the de-hulled and finished coffee that was taken from the paper bag next to the sack of cherries.  The beans were clean and sweet smelling and foretold, I hope, a bright future in the cup.
A job well done!
When I congratulated the farmers on a job well done, Moses (the Community’s political leader) and the farmers were happy campers. This is because last year, the sample brought back to me was dirty and moldy,  so I rejected it and sent instructions for them to follow for the next harvest season. This time, I was there to buy their coffee if it was clean and smelled sweet. Robusta is not a coffee variety that is noted for its flavor but it is useful in many other ways (body in Espresso blends for one). I agreed to purchase the coffee and I became the coop’s first international buyer.

In this photo, my associate and Board member of Thanksgiving Coffee who is an expert on coffee supply chain infrastructure (how to get it from there to here), was explaining something we found by pure luck. It was, as I explained to the farmers, perfect timing that we arrived to see a potential disaster averted. Nick was showing them the problem. On the mat in front of him, the black drying cherries had a white mold softly covering the skins. The cherries were allowed to dry too slowly. They were probably not covered at night and the dew promoted the mold growth.
But, as luck would have it, there was a fresher lot to the right on the same mat and it was mold free. The lessons were there to be drilled home. All it took was a smell test and everyone knew what was needed, especially when I told them that the moldy smell was just a smell, but could they imagine drinking a coffee that tasted moldy ?  The batch was separated and the potential for the coop coffees improved…if word gets out to all the farmers in the Coop.
To be continued
– Paul

A Trip to Africa: Intro – I’m going to Africa

Paul KatzeffBy Paul Katzeff, CEO & Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee

On January 12, I depart my comfortable home on the North Coast of California to visit coffee Farmers and Cooperatives in Rwanda and Uganda. I haven’t visited them on their home turf for almost a decade. Over the last several years Ben Corey Moran, our former Director of Coffee, deepened our relationships with Cooperative leaders and farmers in Africa. It is my intention that this visit will strengthen those ties.

AfricaI’ll be traveling with Nicholas Hoskyns of Etico, an import/export company that has imported our Nicaraguan coffees for the past two years. In 2004 he accompanied me to Rwanda on a USAID consulting job to help The Cooperative Coffee Sector plan its “cupping lab” construction project for cooperatives. He has a vast knowledge of Cooperatives and their organizational structures.

The trip’s focus will be on collaboration: How can our relationship improve quality of life for both coffee farmers and coffee roasters? I believe that quality of life and quality of coffee go hand in hand. There has to be opportunity for a better life in all parts of the coffee trading chain, from the farm to the cup. It is the farmers’ love of their trees that makes good coffee great. Back here in Ft. Bragg , California, it is our pride in what we create for the coffee lover that makes great coffee remain great.

There are some sticky issues that need attention, which have made this trip necessary. Primarily, about crop financing, shipment dates, and creating a system of transparency that demystifies the transfer of money from Thanksgiving Coffee to the individual farmers.

I want to have a first person experience in discovery and learning. And I want to share this 10 day adventure with you. I use the word “adventure” with a certain amount of respect for its broad application. I am not “going on an adventure,” but I know it will be an adventure. What I wish for is the most uneventful yet spiritual adventure. No ceremonial high points and no high fives or WOW’S! I’m hoping for a low key visit with a slow easy gait, and a smile on my face when I return home.

To be continued…

-Paul

A Trip to Africa (series archive)
Intro – I’m going to Africa
Day 1 – Arriving in Uganda
Day 2 – Dancing, Mango Trees & the Dry Mill
Day 3 – On the Road
Day 4 – Transparency, Trust & Relationships
Day 5 – Coffee Quality & A New Mystery

La Roya: rust that kills coffee trees

by Paul Katzeff | CEO, Thanksgiving Coffee

Roya affecting coffee trees in Nicaragua

“Rust” is a word with an ominous sound. It ruins older cars, renders tools useless, and is a major reason for the use of paint to preserve everything made from iron. In Central America there are two kinds of rust. The kind that corrodes iron and the kind that kills coffee trees. The latter rust, called “La Roya” is a Fungus that is pernicious. It lives on the leaves, sucking the life out of them. They fall off and do not return. Coffee cherries never ripen, and the tree eventually dies. This is not a good thing for a coffee farmer whose survival depends on coffee.

Unripened coffee cherries on a rust-affected tree.La Roya is worse than a 60 cent per pound market price, which is a monumental crisis, but there is always another season, and hope for higher prices for the farmer. La Roya is no crop, then three to five years of rehabilitation of the coffee farm. In other words, it is the end of family life on the farm. It is the end of a way of life, of culture, of living on the land. It means hunger, it means migration to the cities, it means over crowding and the deterioration of family life as country people are forced to work in urban factories making clothing for two dollars a day.

La Roya is here and unless a major battle is waged to beat it back, Central American coffee will be a thing of the past, and coffee prices will rise as the supply of quality coffee is diminished.  This is not Chicken Little talking here. This is absolutely a disaster about to happen – this year.

Alexa and her sonsThis February, I was in the Nuevo Segovia Region of Nicaragua on a coffee buying trip. I visited the farm of a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative. Alexa and her two teenage sons live two kilometers from the Honduras boarder. Many of their coffee trees are affected by La Roya, and are starting to lose their leaves. They got a crop this year, but next year they expect to get 50% less. I have no idea how they will be able to continue making a living. They produced 10 sacks (1500 lbs) this year, for which we paid $ 2.75 per pound. That was double the world price and the highest we could afford to pay.

Alexa views the damage to her farmAlexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive. We want her to be able to refresh her trees and beat the Rust. Next year, she will need to get $ 5.50/lb. to survive on her farm. Will you support our effort by paying $2.75 more per pound for her coffee next year? Would you pay more than $15.00 for a bag of her coffee?

Well, first you have to taste it. We will present her coffee to our public in July when it arrives. It is going to cost her about $8,000 to rehabilitate her farm. We are going to try to raise that money between now and December.

That’s the way Direct Trade works – we are all in this coffee thing together.

Paul Katzeff, CEO
Thanksgiving Coffee Company

Coffee Harvest #3 ; It’s still happening !

Jinotega , Nicaragua

January 27 , 2011

Ernesto Somarriba: Photography

Paul Katzeff :Text

The Harvest in Nicaragua as in most of Central America and Mexico will be over in about a month. From November to March, depending on Latitude and altitude, the harvest continues as the cherries ripen . Unlike grapes that ripen all at once, coffee cherries ripen over a 3 month period on each tree. Thus , the farmer must return many times to the same tree to complete his/her harvest.

The first two photos show two very different coffee farmers. The first is a campacino who might be just a landless picker w0rking on a plantation and getting about $3-4 dollars a day picking cherries. The second appears to be a small scale coffee farmer working his own land and obviously, he is allot better off then the first guy. Who is happier and living a more spiritual life is unknown.

Animal power is much more personal then relating to an auto engine but there is a price to pay and that price is paid in time(things move more slowly), in work(it’s harder on the back) and in the amount of land a farmer needs to set aside for pasture. But the rewards come from the fact that you are in a vehicle powered by the sun that produces waste product that feed the coffee trees. The next photo I can almost smell from here. Sweet fruit and crushed skins after the coffee has been depulped and is off to the washing troths and fermentation tanks. It is a messy job to clean up but in the tropics , which is a bacteria and yeast rich environment , cleanliness is more then essential. This is a motor driven machine capable of removing the skins and pulp from 100,000 lbs of cherries in a harvest season.

The pulp is either a problem (Pollutes the rivers) or a gift to the land (Mulch) . I hope we are looking at a farmer who is seeing that red biomass as the gift that it is, (Pulp is 80% of the weight of the cherry. It takes five pounds of cherries to produce one pound of dry green coffee beans. In this next picture, the cherry pulp and skins are all red, which means that this farmer harvested only ripe cherries. His coffee will be sweet, with good acidity and flavor (if altitude, latitude, and farm practices were good too) We will receive our Nicaraguan coffees in June. For now they are “en reposa” or at rest in the warehouses at the various farmer cooperatives we purchase from. Raw coffees need about 60 days to mellow and have the 12 % moisture even itself out throughout the sacks so that roasting will produce an even color later on when we get our chance to be artisans in the roasting room.

Paul Katzeff : Text

Ernesto Somarriba : Photography

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