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AFRICA – Women coffee producers strike success in Nairobi

The American comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that ‘Coffee solves all … problems in one delightful cup’.

That might be an overstatement, but ‘delighted’ can certainly describe the women coffee producers the International Trade Centre (ITC) helped participate in the African Fine Coffees Association (AFCA) Conference and Exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya.

During the conference, held on 12-14 February, ITC (International Trade Centre) organized more than 100 B2B meetings between women coffee producers from across East Africa and international buyers.

These meetings resulted in preliminary commitments for 20 containers of coffee, each weighing in at 18 tonnes, worth an estimated value of US$1.6m.

Coffee cupping

But it was more than just regular chats over a cup of coffee that led to success.

Throughout the AFCA event, buyers also had the opportunity to cup 20 different women’s coffees as part of the Africa Taste of Harvest event.

Buyers said many of the coffees were excellent and one immediately scheduled a trip to come to farm to see more.

Ahead of the conference, ITC worked with 40 women from Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, to prepare profile sheets detailing the characteristics for each coffee, and the volumes that could be delivered.

These were then matched against specific requirements of attending buyers. ITC, in partnership with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), also prepared the women by conducting buyer-mentor-group (BMG) meetings on quality and how to communicate with potential buyers.

Normally a sceptical bunch, buyers at AFCA 2015 saw real value in the B2B meetings, the cupping and the chance to talk coffee at ITC’s women-only stand.

One buyer from Switzerland admitted he was new to the concept of B2B meetings and women’s coffee and said it was a great initiative after having made his first purchase intention with one of the women.

Meanwhile a South Africa-based coffee buyer, described the B2Bs as ‘a great highly concentrated opportunity to meet potential business partners’.

Invaluable experience

For the women, their participation at the conference proved an invaluable experience and opportunity to enter the market, as was the pre-event training and mentoring provided by ITC staff and IWCA.

‘This was such a good opportunity to get to know the market,’ said Diane Koriciza of Burundi. ‘At first, I was nervous but then realized there was no tension and [the buyer and I] could communicate easily.’

Her views were echoed by Sara Yirga from Ethiopia, who said: ‘To me, the BMG was the highlight of the event…and the [training on] basic cupping procedures was very helpful, too.’

While intentional sales were agreed for many of the women coffee producers, it is now the most important work starts: samples will have to be provided to the buyers and final prices have to be agreed.

According to AFCA Executive Director Samuel Kamau, the participation of the ITC women at the event helped create a ‘buzz’ to the three-day conference.

‘This is just the type of value-added service my members need,’ he said, ‘we will mainstream this in the conference in 2016.’

ITC and the dynamic IWCA members will certainly be there, but another opportunity looms as they are already preparing for the next big thing: the Specialty Coffee Association of America Event Seattle in April.

That will hopefully be another opportunity to create more delight over a cup of coffee.