Like all relationships, our partnerships at origin require time and energy. Each party has to contribute to the relationship for it to work, our partners expect as much from us as we do from them. And like all relationships, they are tested from time to time. So why do we place so much importance on building and maintaining these relationships.
The personal story
The better we know our partners the more coffee information we have to share with our customers. According to Gabriella Runesson, co-founder of Morgon Coffee Roasters, this is one of the most important things a sourcing company can deliver.
”Most people are just drinking coffee and someone has to tell them where this cup came from. This is why, when we buy green beans, we expect our partners to provide personal information beyond the altitude or drying table number,” she said.
Talking about the person behind the coffee is crucially important to Elinor, the designer of Morgon Coffee Roasters’ distinctive bags. Elinor believes that people should understand why they are paying a better price for a specialty cup of coffee, and this understanding comes from the personal and detailed information provided directly from the origin.
“If we want to change the way people drink coffee we need to make it personal. Consumers must understand the people behind the coffee. This narrative is really important and it integrates transparency in the value chain chain. In the end, the consumer enjoys the cup of coffee even more,” the designer said.
Keeping on top of the harvest
The Tropiq teams at origin make regular visits to all the partners we work with. In Ethiopia these visits usually take place at different stages of production. We make several trips between mid-November to the end of December, then again in January and February.
During the first visit we look to see how well our partners are preparing for the first delivery of cherry. We look at every criteria that involves harvesting, processing and stocking cherries. For example, what improvements have our partners made to the neighbouring community? How many drying tables have they built for the season?
In the second trip we look to see how well they are managing the harvest, and follow up on various projects. In the case of Haru Washing Station in Yirgacheffe, managed by the Kanketi family, the site distributes organic fertilisers to neighbouring smallholders. Regular visits allow us to check on the progress of this project, and the value it provides for the farmer.
By making the time to visit regularly in person, we’re showing our commitment to our partners, which in turn leads to regular updates from them between visits and throughout the season.
General Manager of Tropiq Ethiopia, Alexander Hansen, says controlling quality during the coffee’s journey, from selective harvesting to exportable green is one of the biggest challenges of coffee buying in Ethiopia. This is often where our long term relationships are tested because so much can go wrong.
There is no guarantee, but there is a better chance of maintaining quality with regular dialogue, and improvements made by our partners directly at the field, site or warehouse. That, according to Alex, is one of the reasons why a long-term relationship is so important.
Building new relationships
One example of a new relationship we are nurturing is with the coffee representative, Ayidefer. Born in Gedeo, Ayidefer, who studied accounting at the Ethiopian Adventist College, worked for the Yirgacheffe Union for eleven years before going solo.
Ayidefer has a good understanding of our needs, both in terms of relationships and quality. Through Ayidefer, we met Mr. Kebede, Mr Kedir and Mr. Balesi, three quality focused farmer/producers with their own exporter license. Not only do their coffees meet our quality criteria, these farmers were also looking for long-term buyers, making them ideal partners for us. Ayidefer is able to communicate our suggestions for harvesting and processing high quality coffee. He also maintains the conversation throughout the season about the harvest conditions as well as improvements that are made on the farms.
Our contribution to the relationship
What do we need to do in these, and all relationships with our farming partners? Pay fairer prices is a good start. On many fronts we are pushing for higher prices, including through a transparency project we’re working on with our sister company, the importer Nordic Approach.
We also try and pre-contract coffee where possible. These contracts act as guarantees that help our partners obtain financing at the beginning of the season so they can invest in their harvest.
In telling the farmers’ stories, we strive to be accurate, above all else, but also to convey the farmers’ and producers’ dedication, professionalism, and commitment to coffee. We hope to shine a light on that very first step in the supply chain, and recognise the true value of our partners’ work.