A trip to Sustainable Market Services (SMS), Thika, and traceability in Kenya? Say what?

A trip to Sustainable Market Services (SMS), Thika, and traceability in Kenya? Say what?

More cupping, a trip to Sustainable Market Services (SMS), Thika, and traceability in Kenya? Say what?

In my last post, I mentioned that marketing firms can market coffees directly to buyers and by pass the auction. This is great for us, just as long as the companies we work with are marketing the coffee we want. My mission today: get down to the nitty gritty, find coffee, and figure out how to put a face on Kenyan coffee.

Today at the office before heading out to the field, I spoke with the top guy of my host exporter in East Africa. We had a conversation about true traceability in Kenya, and I am happy to write, that he does not think it is impossible like many of my peers in the states. Of course I take this with a grain of salt since he is trying to sell me coffee, but it is reassuring that infrastructure is in place for true traceability of quality 90+pt coffees. He and my trader encouraged me to speak to SMS, the farmers and co-ops about record keeping… so I did.

During the two-hour car ride from Nairobi to SMS and Thika, I racked the SMS representatives’ brain for records, availability, etc, and I was pleasantly surprised by his answers. All certified (organic, fair trade, rainforest, UTZ, 4C) are audited to keep detailed records. Furthermore, most coops that they work with are attempting to move towards certification which means the records are there. I never knew this. This means, that all I need to do to figure out who’s coffee is in my lot of X Co-op coffee is ask. It maybe a pain to look up, but the information is there. Growers in Kenya are already accountable for their work. This makes my job easier.

When I first started down the path of direct trade relationship coffee (this was before the terms were used frequently) I remember hearing stories from my buyer that he was the first person to ever visit many of the producers that he did. Not only were the producers dumbfounded that a guy from the USA would be interested in the insignificant amount (less than 10 bags) of coffee they produced, but that he wanted to purchase direct was beyond comprehension. He was often met with, at the least hesitation and disbelief. Needless to say, they worked things out, we got amazing traceable coffees, and they got paid much more for their coffee. Also, their neighboring coffee farmers started creating higher quality coffees.

Currently, the obscure coffees from those projects have become industry standards, and the entire communities that were involved in those early projects are thriving models of sustainable coffee with schools, clean water, and all the social needs that they did not have before. All due to direct trade relationship coffees and trust.

It is my hope that Temple will be able to work such projects in Kenya and Uganda. After visiting SMS and a cooperative in Thika, I now feel assured that traceable coffee is possible.

-Eton Tsuno
Green Coffee Buyer