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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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