The road blocks to fair coffee

In 2021, Trabocca, Simon Lévelt and Fairfood embarked on a journey to realise a living income for Ethiopian coffee farmers that supply Trabocca. This year, we unfortunately had to hit the brakes on this mission. As transparency is an important pillar of our work, we give you the lowdown in this article.

There’s this one, seemingly simple question that we’d like to answer: Are the coffee farmers who are supplying Trabocca earning a living income? And, if no, how do we fix that? In an effort to get the answers, Trabocca, Fairfood and Simon Lévelt teamed up in 2021 for a project carried by the pillars of traceability and transparency. 

Trabocca buys their coffee from about 80 coffee suppliers in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Colombia. Each coffee supplier, in turn, works with hundreds of coffee farmers. Initially, the project was set to focus on two Ethiopian suppliers, who together are supplied by more than 628 small-scale farmers. These suppliers represent 9% of Trabocca’s annual purchase value.

The project consisted of 2 phases. Phase A of the project delivered us the answer to the first of the questions above. By now, we know what the farmers should be getting paid to earn a living income, and we also know that most farmers don’t actually reach this income. But before working out the second question – how do we fix this? – we were forced to put a halt to the project. Achieving full transparency proved difficult because of the supply chain flow (think collectors). Moreover, political unrest and violent protests made it but impossible for the partners to carry out the field work that is needed for full supply chain traceability – mapping all the small-scale farmers and onboarding them to Fairfood’s Trace system, after which all coffee transactions are logged, and a clear view of value distribution is achieved. More than that, to look into the solutions that can help bridge the living income gap. Think, income diversification, adding value and increasing productivity.

A living income benchmark

As said, we did manage to get an answer to the first question – are the coffee farmers earning a living income. In partnership with the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) and the Anker Institute, we determined the living income benchmark for the farmers in the Guji area, Ethiopia. This benchmark unveils what a smallholder farmer in this particular area (the costs of living differ per country and per area – consider living in the centre of Amsterdam versus living in the Dutch countryside) needs to earn to be able to afford nutritious food, housing, education, transportation and other essential needs.

The studies by the KIT and the Anker Institute revealed that the living income is 8,544 ETB (€154.5) per month for the rural Guji zone for a typical family of 6 in 2021.

A journey to full traceability

The next step was finding out if the farmers in this project actually reach this income. For that, we used Fairfood’s traceability platform Trace. For a span of five months, we collected data from 278 Suke Quto outgrowers. This data, which reveals what truly reaches the farmer’s pockets, could be daunting and confronting at times. Yet, it was a vital undertaking, motivated by our shared vision to enhance the lives of growers. We firmly believe that making coffee better begins with transparency in the supply chain.

Trabocca and Fairfood’s Traceable Coffee Journey Concludes

While our collaborative project to bring traceable, ethically sourced Ethiopian coffee to the market has reached its closure, the impact echoes on. The valuable lessons learned, from understanding living income challenges, to navigating complex supply chains, are already enriching Trabocca’s ongoing endeavors. Trabocca’s commitment to ethical sourcing remains constant, and this marks a new chapter in our pursuit of empowering smallholder farmers through transparent traceability. Their journey may be evolving, but Trabocca’s dedication to building a sustainable, socially responsible coffee landscape remains as strong as ever.

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