How your flat white can make a dif­fer­ence in the de­vel­op­ing world

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if there’s one scent most of us think we know, it’s cof­fee. what few re­alise, how­ever, is that when it’s in bloom, a cof­fee plant doesn’t smell like cof­fee, but like jas­mine. it looks like it too. tiny, per­fectly im­per­fect blooms that will each be­come a cherry, ripen­ing at vary­ing rates on the branch be­fore each pro­duc­ing a bean that will pass through hun­dreds of hands and likely travel thou­sands of miles be­fore end­ing up, even­tu­ally, in your cup. cof­fee, a lay­man quickly dis­cov­ers, is a com­pli­cated busi­ness.

Garfield Kerr, how­ever, has made his liv­ing deal­ing in the com­pli­cated. the Us-ed­u­cated Ja­maican lawyer had spent years pulling 18-hour days on wall street, work­ing as an in­vest­ment fund man­ager, when, in 2010, he found him­self in Ye­men con­duct­ing a fea­si­bil­ity study for a pri­vate eq­uity firm that wanted to ex­port spe­cial­ity cof­fee from the coun­try. Dur­ing the visit, he met Kim thomp­son and Matt too­good of Dubai’s Raw cof­fee, who set out to give him a crash course in the re­al­i­ties of the busi­ness for those at the sharp end.

“we broke bread with fam­ily farm­ers wher­ever we went,” Garfield re­calls. “the sig­nif­i­cance of cof­fee to these farm­ers was never lost on us and, while i was one hun­dred per cent cer­tain at the time that i would never pur­sue any­thing in the cof­fee in­dus­try, ev­ery­one else was jok­ing con­stantly that i was al­ready in the cof­fee sec­tor.

“i had be­come very much in­ter­ested in the fact that most peo­ple drink cof­fee and never give a thought to the in­cred­i­bly ar­du­ous labour that goes into ev­ery cup you have at break­fast or on the go be­fore a work­out. along the cof­fee value chain, the farmer does most of the dif­fi­cult labour and re­cov­ers by far the small­est por­tion of the prof­its. and women are present along 90 per cent of the cof­fee value chain but make up less than ten per cent of own­er­ship or man­age­ment. i be­came more and more pas­sion­ate about re­dress­ing that wrong.”

the re­sult was Mokha 1450, a cof­fee bou­tique in Dubai’s al Bada that has made a name for it­self sell­ing uni­queto-mar­ket spe­cialty cof­fees, pri­mar­ily from farms run by women in coun­tries in­clud­ing Ye­men, Ja­maica and Ethiopia, while also act­ing as a csR ini­tia­tive for some of its back­ers. while large-scale pro­duc­ers such as nestlé, star­bucks, costa et al have to bal­ance flavour with cost con­cerns, for spe­cial­ity buy­ers such as Garfield, the qual­ity of the bean, the clar­ity of the pro­duc­tion process and, ul­ti­mately, the flavour the cof­fee can of­fer, is key.

“Fairtrade works re­ally well in some places and is a very good way for com­pa­nies that can’t travel to meet the farm­ers di­rectly to buy cof­fee with con­fi­dence. nonethe­less, for us, we are work­ing with some farm­ers that are small and some that are quite large, and their needs are dif­fer­ent, so we pre­fer di­rect trade. the smaller farm­ers, for in­stance, may not be in a po­si­tion to af­ford all that is re­quired to ob­tain fairtrade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, so we work with them di­rectly so they can grow into larger size farms. and one of the big­gest ben­e­fits for us from di­rect trade is that we have cof­fees that are only avail­able at our café and nowhere else in the world.”

as such, he and his busi­ness part­ners work ex­ten­sively with the farm­ers they buy from to make their busi­nesses more suc­cess­ful and sus­tain­able, from pro­vid­ing train­ing on how best to pick

the cof­fee to as­sist­ing with lo­gis­ti­cal con­cerns. “our pro­gramme varies from pay­ing a higher pre­mium for all of our cof­fees gen­er­ally to sup­port­ing a new well to pro­vide wa­ter to our fe­male farm­ers,” he ex­plains. “we pre­dom­i­nantly fo­cus on ways to help the farm­ers we work with in what­ever ca­pac­ity they need, whether it is sim­ply be­ing paid up front or over­com­ing a struc­tural im­ped­i­ment.”

if that sounds ab­stract, the im­pact of such a work­ing ap­proach be­comes clear when one hits the ground with Garfield and sees the re­cep­tion he and his com­pan­ions re­ceive in Ethiopia. the strength of re­spect to­wards the im­pact of di­rect trade is never clearer than on the Be­beka farm, near the coun­try’s trou­bled su­danese bor­der re­gion, where the record price Garfield pays for his top-grade Ethiopian Geisha beans sees us granted some­thing of a ViP wel­come, al­beit one that is ini­tially un­der­mined some­what by the lib­eral dis­tri­bu­tion of aK47s through­out the wel­com­ing party.

in­deed, in many ways Garfield is an in­ter­est­ing travel com­pan­ion, a man who is more than happy to get in amongst the vil­lage kids, blow­ing up bal­loons and hand­ing out school sup­plies, but who stands out amongst his fel­low in­dus­try trav­ellers in their hik­ing boots and ac­tive wear, ap­pear­ing daily in freshly-pressed clothes and, at one point, a cus­tom three-piece suit. church’s loafers, he dis­cov­ers in good hu­mour, are not ideal footwear for climb­ing the banks of a wa­ter­fall. and while the irony of his hand­ing out pens to the vil­lage kids bear­ing the names of five-star re­sorts the world over – he saves them up dur­ing his trav­els – is not lost on him, if the di­chotomy be­tween his life and the life of those he’s work­ing to sup­port weighs on him, it does so lightly. “to be hon­est, i think the rea­son i’ve man­aged to gain the trust of the farm­ers we work with is that i’m from Ja­maica and, while my back­ground was more sta­ble than it is for many of them, it wasn’t all that dif­fer­ent. i’m not from a fancy back­ground. i’m one of them and you can’t fake that. they’d know if you were fak­ing it. “so i meet peo­ple at their level. i’ll hap­pily sit on the dirt to eat lunch. there may be big money in­vest­ment be­hind this, and of course i have to make sure that what i’m do­ing is profitable, but other than that it doesn’t re­ally af­fect me. i don’t view my in­ter­ac­tions here as a rich and poor sit­u­a­tion


and nei­ther do the peo­ple I’m work­ing with. It has no bear­ing.

“That said, of course, I’m al­ways aware that there is a dis­crep­ancy be­tween the way I live and the way they live, so my job is to do what I can to change that as best I can, to pay a higher, fairer price and still make a profit. And it’s im­por­tant that we can do that, and prove to other buy­ers that we can do that. We’re still mak­ing a profit. The fact that prices have barely changed for cof­fee for so long is out­ra­geous. We’re here to prove that it can be fairer and ev­ery­one can still make a liv­ing.”

Cer­tainly, busi­ness must be go­ing well, given fi­nal prepa­ra­tions are un­der way ahead of the open­ing of Mokha 1450’s sec­ond branch on The Palm Jumeirah, a venue that looks likely to in­tro­duce the brand to a whole new ex­pat mar­ket. And while Garfield is loathe to preach to any­one about the im­pact of their con­sumer de­ci­sions, he’s hope­ful that he can har­ness Dubai’s cur­rent in­ter­est in eth­i­cal con­sumerism to take the next step for­ward for the farm­ers he works with.

“At the end of the day, peo­ple should buy the cof­fee they like from whomever they chose to,” he shrugs. “How­ever, I think it is im­por­tant to recog­nise the hard work that goes into bring­ing them that cof­fee. It’s a labour in­ten­sive en­deav­our, the farm­ers are not get­ting paid a fair share and can’t sur­vive on the low in­come cof­fee gen­er­ates, and that’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the in­dus­try.

“As global de­mand con­tin­ues to rise, sup­ply is pro­jected to de­cline as new gen­er­a­tions from cof­fee farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties de­cide to move to the ci­ties to pur­sue other lines of em­ploy­ment – ones that of­fer a fair wage and al­low them, at a min­i­mum, to sup­port them­selves. That’s why, from my per­spec­tive, it’s im­por­tant that where we can, we buy our cof­fee from cafés that know their sup­ply chain and ac­tively sup­port mea­sures to pay the farm­ers a fair wage. That’s where we can all make a dif­fer­ence.”

“I think it is im­por­tant to recog­nise the hard work that goes into bring­ing cof­fee to mar­ket”

1. in­side the hori­zon pro­cess­ing plant, ad­dis ababa 2. turn­ing the cof­fee husks into fuel blocks 3. cof­fee cher­ries ripe for pick­ing 4. Guard­ing the cof­fee on the Be­beka Es­tate 5. Be­ing greeted at a plan­ta­tion school







6. Chil­dren on the road­side, Ge­sha re­gion 7. Vil­lage life 8. Ru­ral farm­ers with their don­keys 9. Wel­com­ing guests 8.


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