EA going for certified specialty coffees

Sunday October 02 2011

Farmers sort out coffee berries at a factory. Photo/FILE

East and Central African countries are opting for certification of coffee to satisfy market demands for higher quality.

New players such as Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi are joining the certification drive while established exporters like Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia are aggressively growing their certified coffees, threatening to overtake Kenya’s dominance in the region.

One of the biggest certifying bodies in the region is the Netherlands based Utz Kapeh.

Others are the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade Labelling Organisation and Four C’s (Common Code for the Coffee Community).

Out of the 1.355 metric tonnes of certified coffee from Africa sold through the Utz Kapeh certification scheme in the first six months of 2011, Uganda had 930mt while Kenya had 331mt, Tanzania 76mt and Ethiopia 18mt.

Certification provides products with a label that guarantees quality to the consumer and an assurance that its production met a set of environmental, social and economic standards.


Consumers in turn pay a premium above the retail price of the product, which is then channelled back to the farmer.

The global market for certified products has seen rapid growth in the recent past and forecasts project sustained growth.

From the 82,000 60kg bags of coffee sold in 2009 through Utz, the figure grew to 128,000 bags in 2010, an increase of 56 per cent.

Figures from the Rainforest Alliance indicate that sales of certified coffees grew by 41 per cent in 2009 and that since 2003, the supply of Rainforest Alliance coffees to the market grew by an average of 64 per cent annually.

This rapid growth in consumer markets propelled by increasingly quality-conscious consumers is spurring the East and Central African countries to increase their share of the certified coffee market.

In Rwanda, one of the new players in the coffee industry, the certification drive has been slowly gaining ground. “Since 2005 when we started working on certification, we now have 15 co-operatives and would like to add more certified groups,” said François Sihimbiro an agribusiness development advisor with SNV Rwanda.

According to Mr Sihimbiro, certification in Rwanda has helped keep prices stable for farmers.

With limited land, Rwanda hopes to move all its coffee into the speciality category in the near future as the only way of growing earnings from the sector.

“In 2002, only one per cent of Rwanda’s coffee was speciality, but by 2011 we had 35 per cent of our coffee in the specialty category,” said Mr Sihimbiro.

In Congo, years of war and unrest have prevented the coffee industry from growing despite the country having rich soils and ideal weather for arabica coffee production.

Areas such as North Kivu in the east of the country which produces most of the country’s coffee, have been adversely affected by the conflict which has resulted in limited infrastructure, inadequate production machinery, low literacy levels and poor marketing.

Large millers, marketers and dealers have avoided investing in the volatile country, leaving the industry to local entrepreneurs who lack resources and experience.

Some multinationals such as the Switzerland based Schluter SA have, however, been present in the country, moving out during extreme unrest.

In Uganda, the certification drive has been boosted by big multinationals such as the Volcafe Group, which has vast marketing networks and resources internationally.

Most farmers groups have acquire more than one certification label from different certifying organisations so as to increase their exposure in the market.

Multiple certification has presented new challenges since each certifying organisation has its own programme and there is no standardised certification system.

In Kenya, certification has grown steadily over the past decade.

“We are still not happy with the quantities going into the market as certified,” said Loise Njeru, the Coffee Board of Kenya managing director.

Heavy investment by the Ethiopian government in the sector’s development has seen the certification drive pick significantly
“The government has been a key player in the industry by supplying farmers with inputs and organising them into unions and also connecting them with dealers,” said Mersfin Tesserra from Agriceft, a large agricultural corporation in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia was the first African country to receive the Rainforest Alliance certification in 2006 while Utz Kapeh certified its first three coffee farmers cooperatives in the country in 2006.

Despite earning farmers extra income in terms of premium, the certification drive in Ethiopia is dogged by high illiteracy, poor participation by farmers and weak cooperative structures.