Bean There: Home grown African fair-trade coffee brand

Bean There: Home grown African fair-trade coffee brand

- Jonathan Robinson, founder of Bean There Coffee Company, is advocating for Fair Trade in African countries to coincide with today being World Fair Trade Day

- The coffee trade is a perfect example of systematic underdevelopment by the first world of third world countries

- People like Robinson want to change the way coffee is produced and marketed to benefit those who grow the beans rather than large companies

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Coffee plantations worked by thousands of African slaves used to be the norm in the coffee trade, and in many ways it still is today. gather that even today, much of the coffee sold around the world today still comes from plantations where workers are exploited.

Wealthy countries and companies systematically underdeveloped third world countries. Underdevelopment theory explains how the wealthy countries and companies used exploitative trade and production methods in order to keep control of poorer populations and keep countries beholden to their influence.

This exploitative model of business is something which Jonathan Robinson, founder of Bean There Coffee Company, South Africa’s first roaster of certified direct fair trade coffee, feels needed to stop.

“Not many companies do fair trade as an overall buying philosophy, as we do. A lot of companies will add one fair trade coffee to their trade and the rest is commercial. I know of a few others who offer fair trade, but even then, only for a portion of their coffee,” explained Robinson.

Bean There’s model is unique in that it insists that the company source all of their coffee directly from those who produce it. Robinson visits his producers regularly and works with them to improve their crops.

In a sense, this is why his company can be called “Bean There” a play on the words “been there,” as he literally has been everywhere the beans he uses comes from.

On a typical visit Robinson will with the leaders of the co-operative as well as individual farmers.

As reported by South African blog, Good Things Guy, Robinson started up his business following a stock market crash, a hiking trip and a chance encounter with a man who in many ways can be thought of as the protagonist of fair trade coffee, Hugo Ciro, founder of Level Ground Trading.

Bean There now operates out of three roasteries; two in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town. The three roast more than 120 tonnes of fair trade coffee each year. All of which is sourced from small-scale farmers in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Wherever we work, we work with co-operatives who represent anything from 600 to 4000 farmers. We don’t work with any one farmer as they’re all too small to supply coffee to us by themselves. They group themselves together into a co-operative and set up a washing station where they process the coffee. All the farmers in the area bring their yield to a central place where it is processed. The advantage of being in a cooperative is that not only do they get fair trade prices, but they also get the benefit of a second payment if there’s a profit. This profit is shared among the co-operative members,” explains Robinson.

Agnes' story

By way of example of how Bean There empowers people, Robinson cites the story of Agnes Wairimu Kanja from Kenya who he met in 2007.

“She lived in a mud hut. She had two kids, a son and daughter. One was in school and other, she had no school fees for. I immediately thought what can I do to fix this problem? I could have paid the school fees, but I would have just perpetuated a cycle of aid. The real benefit of fair trade is saying, ‘Agnes, you make amazing coffee. We’ll buy your coffee at a great price and that enables you to sort out your own life,’” says Robinson.

Bean There’s purchase of her coffee enabled Agnes to go for training resulting in an increase in her coffee yields.

The previously destitute woman was then able to start helping others in her community. She started training farmers in her area and was identified as a leader in the community.

“The change in Agnes’ life since I met her has been phenomenal. When I saw her last in February 2017, she had a brick house and roof gutters. We sat on the couch in her lounge, with Batman playing on television in the background and looked at some of her Facebook photos on her iPhone. Agnes has taken control of her own life, coffee has played a big part.”

Olga’s legacy

Robinson says he developed an interest in coffee from the influence of his grandmother. “My grandmother Olga, introduced me to coffee when I was about 12. She used to drink it black with a square of dark chocolate. She’d say to us as kids, ‘try coffee without sugar, you’ll taste the flavours. It will revolutionise your life’ – it did.” explains Robinson.

Despite fair trade being such a key part of Bean There’s business model, Robinson says it isn’t where he begins. Instead he says the main priority is to find great coffee.

“People don’t buy coffee because it is fair trade, they buy it because it is amazing and that’s how it should always be. I never wanted our coffee purchases to be done out of charity, it disrespects the incredible coffee and the farmers that work so hard to produce it.”

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