Strengthening our relationships with producer partners around the world is as crucial as ever, with coffee farmers continuing to grapple with the low coffee market prices, impacts of climate change, and the shock of COVID-19 upon their businesses.

2019 was a year of continued progress against our sourcing goals, with 97.7% of the coffee we purchased holding at least one, if not multiple certifications, an increase on the previous two years.

It was also a great year for hosting guests from producer partners around the world. We were delighted to welcome Aimable Nshimiye from the Sholi cooperative in Rwanda, Armia Mandago from the Permata Gayo cooperative in Sumatra, Ivania Rivera from the Aldea Global cooperative in Nicaragua, and Rafael Fonseca from the COOMAP cooperative in Brazil. This is an aspect of our trading partnerships which we are really missing in 2020 light of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Featured below are insights into three of our key partnerships in 2019.

Building relationships and increasing transparency along the supply chain from producer to consumer is a key way that we can add value for our supply chain stakeholders. The first two case studies are examples of how we have worked to improve the visibility of coffee origins through our collaborations with our customers in the UK.

Our third case study focuses on our collaboration on sustainable farming with the Asocafé cooperative in Bolivia.

The ASCARIVE Cooperative, Brazil

2019-20 was a significant time period for our partnership with the ASCARIVE cooperative, a small group of 122 coffee farmers located in the southern region of Minas Gerais in Brazil. We were delighted to be able to launch a single-origin espresso blend for one of our customers, a large UK-retailer, showcasing the delicious coffee from this group!

Further to this, our Coffee Buyer, Estelle MacGilp, and our Head of Coffee and Quality, Eduarda Cristovam, visited the group in August 2019, intrigued to hear first-hand about the impact that Fairtrade certification has had on the group as this certification is relatively unusual in the Brazilian coffee sector. The testimony of one member, Paulo Ribeiro Rocha, particularly stood out to them as he spoke very passionately about the impact of Fairtrade on the community. Paulo has since been the inspiration behind the launch of a new product in 2020, the “Rocha” blend, developed as a bespoke product for Smokin’ Bean.

Maria Rocha, pictured with father Paulo, the inspiration for the Smokin" Bean Rocha blend.

We spoke to Maria Paula Rocha, Business Manager at ASCARIVE, who also happens to be Paulo’s daughter. She explained more about our partnership from ASCARIVE’s perspective.

Why are strong trading relationships with roasters around the world so important for your farmer members? “Maintaining solid relationships is essential for the development of ASCARIVE and for the survival of our members, since they are family farmers and coffee production is their source of subsistence. These relationships ensure that in difficult times like the one we are living with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have allies to join forces with and support our members, family and community.”

How has the relationship between Matthew Algie and ASCARIVE developed over the last couple of years? “A healthy, transparent and mutually supportive relationship was built where the entities are able to grow together. In 2019, ASCARIVE was pleased to receive the visit of Matthew Algie collaborators and demonstrate some of the work our associates have been doing. At that moment, it was possible to present projects developed by Ascarive using Fairtrade premiums mainly in the environmental, social and quality improvement areas. After this visit, it became clear that the partnership will always be successful.”

How did you feel when you heard that your Father, Senor Rocha, was the inspiration for the new Smokin' Bean project because of his passion for Fairtrade? “It is an honour to be part of this project and especially to be the inspiration. I feel overwhelmed by an inexplicable and immeasurable emotion. I hope that our passion for Fairtrade and coffee will inspire more companies and reach as many people as possible so that together we can build a more just world for everyone.”

The Sholi Cooperative, Rwanda

Rwanda has a long history of coffee production and, in particular, coffee has played a key role in restoring the economy after the genocide 25 years ago. Nevertheless, cooperatives and their farmer members here have been hindered from reaching their full potential by problems such as poor infrastructure, access to finance and access to international markets.

Since 2017, we have been involved with a collaborative programme implemented by Challenges Worldwide, supporting eight coffee cooperatives in western and southern Rwanda in tackling some of these challenges. Some of the achievements of the project so far include:

  • Exported coffee volumes up by 18%.
  • Increase in cupping scores.
  • Half of the cooperatives have measured a 50% increase in operational efficiency (covering financial management, governance and logistics).
  • All cooperatives now have functioning websites with new content, including commissioned photography.
  • Installation of new infrastructures such as a solar mini-grid and waste-water treatment facilities.

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Our specific role in the programme is to provide industry insight, such as feedback on coffee quality, and to assist with promoting the unique qualities of Rwandan coffee in the UK market. A highlight so far has been introducing our customer, the University of Strathclyde, to Aimable Nshimiye the General Manager of the Abateraninkunga Ba Sholi coffee cooperative, one of the groups involved in the project.

The University uses one of our coffee blends which includes a Rwandan coffee component in their hospitality outlets, so this was a great opportunity for actors at different ends of the supply chain to learn from one another. More broadly, we have been able to assist the programme by hosting three coffee tastings at events showcasing the project and roasting sample bags of single-origin coffee from the Sholi group.

Coinciding with the launch of the mid-project report, Challenges Worldwide produced the short video above, showing the impact at origin and the ripple effect this has had along the supply chain.

Beating Coffee Diseases with Farmers in Bolivia

Asocafé is a coffee cooperative based in Canton Taipiplaya in western Bolivia. We have had a trading relationship with them since 2006 and so we were extremely concerned to see a decline in their yields in recent seasons, mainly due to coffee diseases such as Yellow Rust and pests such as Coffee Borer. It became clear that capital investment was needed to renew the coffee crop, alongside complementary training for farmers to instill best practice farming methods.

In partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation we successfully secured funding from the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission and partnered on a programme of support for a core group of 200 farmers, implemented during 2018-19. Alongside the farm renovation and farmer training, we also took the opportunity to use some of the learnings from our previous programmes in Peru, helping Asocafé improve the way they use water at their central processing facilities.

Florentino Arce is a 28 year-old farmer from Renacer (“Reborn”) Farm, located in Flor de Mayo village, Taipiplaya. He has 3 hectares of Fairtrade and organic certified coffee and 4.25 hectares of conservation wood on his farm which sits at 1,660 meters above sea level. Florentino participated very actively in the training program of the project and became a lead farmer.

Before the project I did not know many things about best practices in coffee production. But with the training and field schools, I received support on pest and diseases control and making and applying organic pesticides. I have noticed that the rust has stopped since we have started to handle the coffee better. Before my plantation had a lot of shade and that attracted the coffee rust. Now that I have trimmed the trees the rust has decreased. The Coffee Borer is not observed either because I installed traps throughout my farm. I think that it is possible to have a sustainable farm and get a profit from coffee because we are now better prepared than before.

Also, before I did not know how to select coffee seeds and sowed any variety on the farm. After learning about nursery management and coffee renovation, I can now make better decisions to plant varieties depending on height and climate. Now my renovated coffee plantation grows much better than before. Before, I had old coffee trees, more than 10 years old that did not produce much cherry, and what was produced was of low quality. In this last season, the yield of my coffee has increased, and it is much better.”

What impact has the project had?

  • Farmers learned how to install coffee nurseries and have planted out 75Ha of new coffee trees.
  • Better farming practices have reduced crop losses due to pests and disease from 60% to 10% and increased coffee yields on average by 50%.
  • There has been a 60% reduction in water required for coffee processing by installing more efficient equipment.
  • Asocafé now uses the wastewater from coffee processing to produce 10,000L of biofertilizer per year. This has the added benefit of diverting the wastewater from being released into the local environment.
  • The cooperative has developed and implemented a new procedures manual. Improving the way they collect and utilize farmer data is helping them with traceability and certification.

Maritza Mamani is a 28-year-old farmer from Bello Horizonte village, in Taipiplaya. She owns “El Tucan” farm, with 1 hectare of Fairtrade and organic certified coffee on her 3 hectares of land, at an altitude of 1,478 metres above sea level. Alongside coffee she grows corn, avocado and bananas. She works side by side with her husband on the coffee production, with support of other relatives who live nearby. She became a member of Asocafé 3 years ago because she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, who is also a member.

“I used to have coffee trees on my farm, but they produced coffee in small quantities since they were very old trees and diseases also affected it a lot. This situation greatly affected my finances, so when we learned about the project with Asocafé we wanted to participate and with my husband, we decided to renew the coffee plantations. Now I have a hectare of renovated coffee growing, which I hope can start producing next year.

What I liked the most about the project was the demo plots since they are very well managed, and it is a good way to learn from our neighbours about the best practices to produce coffee. Also, the new coffee trees look very good and are very healthy!”