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Q&A with Sebastian Vibe-Petersen: What is Impact Trade coffee?

At Scanomat, we live and breathe coffee. It’s our passion. And we know that in order for our clients to have the best coffee experience with their TopBrewer, we must travel back to the source, the coffee farms, to ensure that we are buying the best coffee beans for our AMOKKA coffee range. Our partner farms are incredibly important to us, and we know they are the key to building meaningful relationships and, ultimately, receiving the best quality product. This is where Impact Trade comes in.

We sat down with Scanomat’s Export Manager and all-round coffee expert, Sebastian Vibe-Petersen to find out more about Impact Trade. Read on to find out more…

-What is Impact Trade and how does it differ from Direct Trade and Fairtrade?

The principles of Impact Trade have been part of the Scanomat ethos since day 1 in one form or another, though it’s only recently that we have formalised“Impact Trade” as the basis of our sustainable ethos at Amokka Coffee Roasters. In short, Impact Trade is all about making a valuable impact in the community we buy our coffee from.

Fairtrade is an institutional arrangement aimed at helping producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions, but in fact Fairtrade prices often barely even cover the cost of coffee production.

Direct Trade places emphasis on building relationships with the same farms and farmers and trading directly, cutting out the middle man and ensuring the farms receive a bigger piece of the pie.

Impact Trade goes a step further than Direct Trade. As well as building relationships with partner farms, we look to impact the community at the source and make a real difference to the community.

In the current market, the price of coffee is so low that many farmers can’t keep their farms and themselves alive. We have heard about farmers leaving the coffee industry altogether because they are not being paid appropriately. Coffee is being sold as a luxury product that people will pay good money for, for example most would think nothing of paying £4 for a latte from a high-street chain, but this profit is not being fed back to the farmers so many are struggling.

With Impact Trade, our idea was not to make a Fairtrade equivalent, but it was about developing an agreement to build relationships, keep farms running, invest in communities and ultimately ensure our customers are receiving a high-quality product that has been sourced ethically. We have worked very hard to build solid relationships with our partner farms and cooperatives, and we are in it for the long run. Buying directly from the same farms year after year helps build trust, and our farmers know we are there to support them.

It started by us realising that by paying a certain price for the coffee we buy, not only are we paying way above market price for the beans, it also means some of the funds can be earmarked for specific projects. It’s this earmarking of funds for specific projects that’s the important bit. We have created a structured contract between Scanomat and our partner farms that outlines the stipulations and commitment from us as well as what we expect from them in terms of farming practices and the upcoming harvest. We work alongside our partners to decide on a project that the earmarked money will go towards, and this can be totally different for each farm, but the overall goal is to improve the community. The projects can be anything from building local infrastructure to improving farming abilities to local school projects. The important thing is that it is with our partner farms, not for them, and having a contract signed by both parties means we can stand behind it and we are held to account. We don’t hide behind empty promises.

With our Impact Trade initiative we have helped fund sporting and school programmes and have installed a clean water tap station for a school in our Ethiopian partner’s community. We are also working on a solar power project in Nicaragua and have installed pumps that require no fuel or electricity, making life easier for our partners.

-What motivated Scanomat/AMOKKA to begin its Impact Trade initiative?

Impact Trade is our own initiative and actually came about thanks to our Ethiopian partner, who we have been working with for over 5 years! Direct Trade is becoming more common, but we didn’t feel like this was doing enough to help our partner farms. With Impact Trade, we wanted to build long, meaningful relationships with our partners across the world in order to have a positive impact on the local community.

We don’t shop around each year for the lowest prices. We build relationships and commit to our farms and cooperatives so we can keep buying from them and directly impact the farm at the source. Improving the lives of our farmers and their communities is a win-win situation. On the one hand, it helps communities in countries which are often rife with poverty, and on the other hand it can improve farming practices and the quality of the coffee, which means we can be confident our customers are receiving the best product.

-Two of AMOKKA’s coffees, Treehuggers Blend and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, are the first to be marked with the Impact Trade logo, what does the future hold for AMOKKA and Impact Trade?

At the moment it’s just our Treehuggers Blend and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that are Impact Trade, but the plan is to make all of our coffees Impact Trade. We’re currently working with all of our partner farms and cooperatives to draft agreements in order to make this happen.

From next year, all our farms will follow the Impact Trade ethos and we will be working alongside them to find the projects that will be most effective and impactful for the local community.

We’re striving for traceability in our coffee. Our long term goal is that every cup of our coffee can be traced back to the origin and the farm or farmer it was bought from, as well as providing information on when the beans were harvested and when it was roasted. We’re working hard behind the scenes to make this something that can be accessed through TopBrewer’s CoffeeCloud cloud management system.

-Did you encounter any challenges when building relationships with AMOKKA partner farms? How did you overcome them?

We encountered several challenges throughout the process, but the biggest challenge has been building trust. From our end, we need to be certain that we can work well together and that they can deliver the best quality product. From their end, they need to see and believe that we are doing what we say we will. They need to trust that we believe fully in our Impact Trade ethos and that we will deliver on our side in terms of investment and a continued relationship. Coupled with the fact that our farms are so far away from Scanomat HQ in Denmark, the first few years with a new farm can be rocky.

Our Ethiopian partner has been the biggest success story so far, as well as our partners in Nicaragua and Brazil. They prove that with consistency and patience, the relationship will grow stronger, and the quality and taste of the coffee beans has improved year after year. We hope all of our partner farms will follow this same trajectory!

-What are the benefits of Impact Trade for TopBrewer clients and the end consumer?

For the end consumer, meaning the person using the TopBrewer and drinking the cup of AMOKKA coffee, the main benefit will be the quality in their beverage. Investment in communities, infrastructure and farming equipment leads to improved quality.

We pride ourselves in being transparent in what we are selling and where it has come from, and we have a real and tangible story to tell from each farm involved in terms of the benefits of our Impact Trade relationship for the local community. Because of this, there is the sense that the coffee the consumer is enjoying has been sourced in an ethical way and by a company that is going the extra mile to ensure fair and impactful trade.

For TopBrewer clients, our Impact Trade ethos can help meet sustainability and CSR goals. See more ways TopBrewer can meet your CSR goals here.

Read more about AMOKKA coffee and our partner farms here

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