Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda, home to this year’s East African Fine Coffee Association’s annual meeting and conference. EAFCA is a trade association of 8 producing countries, but their annual gathering is much more than a chance to vote on some motions and coordinate marketing. It’s a gathering of industry players ranging from big to small, banks, development organizations, and government agencies. Everyone converges to make deals, make plans, and hopefully, develop mutually beneficial partnerships.
I’m here along with our friends from TransfairUSA, and a host of private and public sector partners to spend some time with our three East African coffee suppliers: the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, from Rwanda, Peace Kawomera, from Uganda, and the Sidama Farmers Cooperative Union, from Ethiopia.
And after a long day of presentations, meetings, and negotiations, I’m happy to report that while we are small fish in a big sea, we’re strong, and our partnerships are dynamic, deeply rooted, and capable of adapting to new challenges and going after new opportunities. I can’t help but feel a familiar sense of happy marginalization—while big multinational traders talk about volume, efficiencies, and risk management, we talk about quality improvements, social benefits, and environmental sustainability. The analogy might be a little clumsy, but its kind of like going shopping at the farmers market where you meet the farmer, and maybe get a little dirt along with the sweetest carrot of the season, versus going to Wal-Mart and getting these strange pre-cut and wittled-down carrot sticks from a few continents away. Actually, that’s a pretty good analogy.
I’m happy to report that the fair trade cooperatives are stronger than ever. They’re seeing increased interest in their coffee, and with production volumes down this year, have seen good prices and have pretty much cleared their books of coffee from the 2008/2009 season. They still face a lot of challenges, especially around their needs for affordable finance which is a perennial challenge made more difficult by the global economic crisis and banking freeze-up.
I’m also happy to share that we’re making good progress on building an alliance of private and public-sector partners around a new pilot project that’s going to map out strategies available to cooperatives as they look to reduce the impact of climate change and enhance the adaptability of their farm systems. We’re looking to start that project here in Rwanda this year, and scale it out to Uganda in the next three years. After that, if all goes well, we’ll have a working model we can take to Ethiopia, and to our Central American partners.
I’ll be here for the next two days attending the conference, then traveling to Musasa in the north of Rwanda to spend a few days with the farmers at Dukunde Kawa. After that it’s on to Uganda for a week, so stay tuned for more news and reflections on the current state and future of our work here with family farmers in East Africa.