Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kenya Coffee Linkages Tour with TradeHub Team - Focus on Nairobi

Judging Taste of Harvest competition coffees
In three short days, Jan. 29 - 31, 2018, the USAID Trade Hub/Africa Fine Coffee Association (AFCA) buyer trip to Kenya packed in amazing trade-linkage opportunities in coffee. We started with cupping through 18 Kenyan coffees at the Nairobi Coffee Directorate, the coffees were the finalists in the Taste of Harvest competition held annually by AFCA in seven countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Zambia). The finalists from Kenya will go on to compete in the international Taste of Harvest competition in Kampala, Uganda, 14 - 16 February.
One of the highlights of the half-day we spent at the Directorate was the visit we had from Benson Apuoyo, Interim Manger, Market Research & Product Development and David Kandagar, a senior officer of the Technical and Advisory Services of the Kenyan government's Agriculture and Food Authority. It was exciting to hear Mr. Apuoyo describe the success Kenya had as the portrait country of the Special Coffee Association Expo show in Seattle in 2017. I appreciated so much when Mr. Kandagar described their goal to double Kenya's Arabica production in the near term.

Our team of four American cuppers from Michigan (this blog author, Ruth Ann Church), Wisconsin (Alex Stoffregen), Texas (Aaron Brown), and California (Alice Hineline), were like the back-up team to the professional Kenyan team of 5 cuppers led by Regina Mwangi. I had arrived one day late, which meant my colleagues had already cupped 32 coffees the day before, and we were down to the 18 best. The rounds of 5 cups per coffee narrowed from these 18 to 12, and we gave each coffee a score on the SCAA 100 point scale. Then we cupped 2 cups of a unique natural, sun-dried coffee from producer, Simon Kaniaru Gakinya of Mount Kenya Specialty Tea & Coffee. We enjoyed meeting him and learning about the innovations he is pursuing at his farm. All together, we cupped 160 cups of Kenyan coffee ((18+12+2)*5 cups ea. =160 cups)!

Led by our able guide, Wambui Waiganjo, AFCA's Chapter Coordinator in Kenya, our team also visited logistics company Bollore, meeting the head of freight and forwarding and the operations manager for coffee. We met with the USAID-Trade Hub staff at their offices in the Westlands, and also Thika Coffee Mills management team, including the chairman, Pius Ngugi and Benard Sitati, the General Manager. The "finale" of our days in Kenya was the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, where we observed coffee trading in action and the CEO, Daniel Mbithi, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the amazing samples room. Probably 1000 bags of coffee samples were neatly lining long tables set in rows, running the entire length of the room which was probably 50m long! Mr. Mbithi described how the labels on the samples have a code that critically links them to listings in the catalogue that is created for each week's coffee auction. It is an intricate and well-thought-out system. We came away admiring how Kenya has built a process that achieves price discovery in a consistent, fair and market-oriented manner.

Other linkages that were made by our team came from the individual backgrounds and networks of the team members themselves. Aaron from Texas linked us up with Nairobi friends at a restaurant one evening. This enabled a small coffee producer Ruth Ann knew from the Meru district to join the group, creating an exchange of insights on coffee production on the Kenya side, and logistics and sales realities on the US side. At the Nairobi Coffee Exchange Alex introduced us to a long-time trading veteran who has served her company well in Nairobi.

I will never forget these experiences. I plan to use them to re-ignite excitement about Kenyan coffee among my roaster customers. I expect to be following up with my new network of contacts in Nairobi soon. So rich, So Kenyan!