When the Peace Kawomera Cooperative formed in the fall of 2004, they lacked an office, a professional staff, and basic business experience in coffee. Yet, they did have hope, a common need, and a shared commitment to finding a way out of their entrapment in a market that offered low prices, insecurity, and all but guaranteed poverty. As a coffee company with decades of experience working with farmers, we knew from the very beginning that the Cooperative would require our support and guidance to grow into a strong, well-run, and successful endeavor.
As we commit to buying their entire crop year after year, our central concern is building a strong and sustainable business and establishing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. This means ensuring that the Cooperative has the infrastructure and financing necessary to run their operations, produce great coffee, and offer added value to their members. In the beginning, coffee brought the farmers together and made it possible for us to work in partnership. As the Cooperative develops, coffee continues to provide the foundation for our work together, and an opening to new opportunities for strengthening our partnership, and creating benefit for the farmers.
Our profit-sharing structure creates a powerful source of funding for the Cooperative’s business development needs. This innovative business model provides transparency for consumers and pushes the fair trade system towards greater equity for the farmers.
In the fall of 2005, just as the Cooperative was preparing for their second harvest, they sent word that they were worried about their ability to produce quality coffee because they had so few hand-cranked depulpers for their 450 members to use. In fact, the Cooperative — according to President JJ Keki — was concerned that they would not be able to deliver the container we had contracted for. We learned that only a few farmers owned their own depulping machines, but hundreds of the farmers had to share the Co-op’s one machine, carrying it from farm to farm throughout the day so that each farmer could use it. We quickly wired an advance of $2,500, which enabled the purchase of 5 new machines that the Cooperative located geographically so farmers within a short walk of each other could share the use of these machines. That year’s harvest came in smoothly, and at a better quality than the previous year’s. Over the next few months, thanks to coffee sales, the Co-op’s advance was paid off, and funds began adding up again.
Since then, the money from our profit-sharing program has been used to purchase land for the Cooperative’s future office and warehouse, fulfilling the dream of the Cooperative’s board for a permanent headquarters with established electricity, internet connections, and phone lines. More recently, the Cooperative has used the funds to subsidize the purchase of coffee seedlings for its members, and extended agricultural advising services, supporting the development of a stronger farming program and greater productivity for members.
We continue to guarantee a market for the Cooperative’s entire production; 37,500 lbs in the first two years, 75,000 lbs in the third year, 112,500 lbs in the fourth year and an estimated 150,000 lbs this coming year. In addition to growth in production, the Cooperative’s membership has grown from 450 farmers to 705, many of whom are neighbors of the initial members, but were reluctant at first to join. This growth in membership and production has stressed the Cooperative’s ability to manage the logistics of its business, but with our support and counsel, they’ve managed to obtain the necessary pre-harvest financing to enable coffee purchasing, maintain high standards for agricultural training and quality production, and supervise a comprehensive organic certification program for the entire membership. In 2006, the Cooperative made a significant investment in its future by hiring Muhammed Kakaire — a young man who was born and raised in the community, and a recent graduate from university in Kampala — as their first professionally trained full time staff person.
Currently, the Cooperative is working to create a comprehensive micro-finance initiative for its members. Beyond traditional small-scale loans, the Cooperative has established a matched-savings program (often known as an IDA) to incentivize long-term savings, and establish the financial infrastructure necessary for farmers to save and invest their increased earnings from coffee sales. Using money from our profit-sharing program, the Cooperative has been able to contribute to the established principal along with a variety of American private donors and supporting organizations. To support these endeavors, the Cooperative has organized financial literacy trainings with a local bank, and in order to ensure shared benefit, the Cooperative has created guidelines establishing 50-50 quotas for men and women participants, as well as small savings groups to ensure that even the poorer members are able to access these programs.
In the near future, the Cooperative plans to diversify its business by launching a pilot organic vanilla project with an initial target production of 1,000 lbs of cured vanilla beans. The Cooperative also plans to expand its training programs to assist farmers in increasing coffee quality, and to ensure that the trees on every farmer’s shamba (farm) are kept highly productive. Alongside these business projects, ongoing community projects in public health education, music and culture, and interfaith cooperation nurture the members’ spirit of hope for the future.