Thiriku Cooperative

The Kenyan coffee revolution continues, but not with Ndaroini.

We can deliver on our promise because we work with great people in origin. Suppliers and farmers we can trust and who accompany us on the endless journey in pursuit of great coffee. These people enable us to deliver you the specialty coffee you seek. Coffee is a people’s business, because, besides contracts between parties, it leans heavily on trust. But if this trust is broken because of corruption, we are forced to cease all cooperation. Unfortunately, this has happened with Ndaroini.

We have terminated our contract and cooperation with the Ndaroini growers because we discovered a serious act of corruption among Ndaroini board members in late 2020. This announcement is no letter of slander, but an honest and transparent summation of the situation with our former partners of Ndaroini.

What happened?

Despite massive strides of success, we have found that some of the Ndaroini board members have fallen to corruption. We discovered disappearing prefinance through “air kilo’s”, they accepted coffee from non-Ndaroini farmers, and they made deals with other coffee importers – even with an exclusive contract in place. With all these acts of corruption, they have undermined the impact of the project and their relationship with us.

At Trabocca, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to corruption. And certainly, when it affects the most vulnerable members of the chain: the smallholders. This act of corruption among Ndaroini board members is a cruel reminder of the reality Kenyan farmers face. This exact problem was the genesis of our project. This is why we want to make a difference and why we spend so much time, energy, knowledge, and money in developing a healthy business model for the entire chain.

We will not import Ndaroini coffee this season

The current supply chain model is discouraging for farmers and utterly inefficient, as well. We find this unacceptable in a place with some of the finest coffees around the globe where farmers need help to make this a viable business. That is why we will not deliver Ndaroini coffee this season. We do sympathize with all the honest and hardworking Ndaroini farmers who dubbed this movement as the ‘Kenyan Coffee revolution’. We will not forget the good farmers and we hope to include them again in our supply chain in the future.

To honor the Ndaroini growers, we have summed up what we achieved in the past three years together.

What we achieved with the Ndaroini

  • We bought the entire Ndaroini production at a net price to the farmers of Ksh 100/kg (= USD 1/kg) red cherries (double the average price paid in Kenya).
  • We paid an additional Ksh 15/kg resp Ksh 9 Ksh/kg for processing costs at the washing station.
  • We paid farmers in full and on time. In February 2019 and April 2020. Farmers were paid in full as agreed through this last season.
  • We paid additional costs for processing at the washing station, and special drying nets were imported.
  • We’ve deployed significant prefinance for two years at only 8% interest instead of 20-23%.
  • The Ndaroini farmers received advanced agronomy training to better their quality and yield.
  • The RFA certification process was implemented.
  • A test farm for modeling and training was established, and anaerobic trials were done.
  • We installed a system of accounting controls (which alerted us to the issue of corruption).
  • And last but not least, the coffee and our story reached high-end roasters worldwide.

So what now? The movement and supply chain continue to be.

The positivity of this movement and supply chain inspired other growers in Nyeri. We are happy to announce that we found a new group of farmers that will carry the torch of the revolution. With pride, we introduce the Thiriku Cooperative!

The Kenyan Coffee revolution continues

Even before we cooperated with Ndaroini, we were in contact with Thiriku for several years, they never left our radar. We are pleased with the Thiriku Cooperative as our new project partner, and we are very excited about the mentality of the board. Thiriku has a strong board, and the members understand the current situation and want to be part of the solution. They have what it takes, including amazing altitude, to grow and deliver the best Kenyan coffee.

Continuing with Thiriku where we left off with Ndaroini

The challenges that have paused our work with Ndaroini farmers have informed our new agreement. And the same core principles still apply to our cooperation with Thiriku.

  • Paying  the right prices, which strive to reach a minimum living income, to the farmers to give them an incentive to grow great coffee instead of abandoning the coffee market.
  • Assisting farmers in advanced agronomic skills, together with our local Agronomist.
  • Modernizing the processing methods at Thiriku washing station and experimenting with emerging drying and processing methods.
  • We will still distribute the solar-powered cookstoves among the several Ndaroini and Thiriku farmers.

What we have done so far

We shipped all the coffee and paid a price of Ksh 120/kg cherries, which includes Ksh 100/kg directly to the farmers. Together with the processing manager, we’re improving processing techniques, measuring, collecting farmer data, and speeding up shipments.

Like many Cooperatives in Kenya, Thiriku is entangled in commercial loans with a high interest rate (that has been rolling for the past 9 years). That is why we are negotiating with several financial institutions on how to restructure the Thiriku loans, and to make the cooperative profitable again. We also arranged a USD 600.000 interest free loan(!) for them for the coming 2021 crop.

With our Agronomist, Bernard Gichimu, we have created an agronomy plan for the year. The plan includes the distribution of the right and responsible fertilizers/copper fungicides to control CBD and coffee rust at the right time in the right doses is crucial to increase quality, yields and avoid diseases, some known issues Kenya is facing. We have introduced organic fertilizers and slowly edging out the inorganic fertilizers.

On top of this, we collected all data GPS, average tree count, yields, varietals, and farm information from 1170 farmers so far. This data will be a great tool for implementing further improvements fast.

Looking towards the future

At Trabocca, we hope you understand why we needed to make the tough decision to break ties with Ndaroini and continue the project with Thiriku. For our team, it was a difficult but necessary decision. We will never accept shady approaches and corruption. However, the future of coffee in Kenya remains bright, and we are confident our cooperation with Thiriku will continue to be an example in the market.

If you have any questions about the details of the switch or the Thiriku Cooperative, please reach out to us.