Our Take on “Decolonizing” the Coffee Chain 

To many, professionals throughout the international coffee supply chain are not doing enough to work towards sustainability and social equity goals. As so many people are involved in every coffee supply chain, many people suggest that decolonization is necessary to truly empower farmers and to ensure that they are paid fairly for the crops that they produce. 

But what is meant by the decolonization of the coffee industry? And how does it work in practice? In this article, we explain what steps we at Kingha are taking to decolonize the coffee industry to ensure that more money enters the pockets of the people who grow the coffee that we bring to market. 

Decolonizing the coffee chain: What does it mean?

Fundamentally, decolonization within the coffee chain is about placing control back in the hands of the people who actually grow coffee, rather than those involved in the transportation, marketing, roasting, and selling of coffee beans. 

The guys over at Coffee Intelligence articulate this well, by highlighting that speciality green coffee at the point of purchase goes for roughly $2.60 per pound. In contrast, roasted speciality coffee goes for an average of $28.64 per pound. A big difference!

Farmers relinquish control over their crops in most countries almost immediately after they have harvested their beans. Many don’t know (and often don’t care) what happens to their coffee when it arrives in Canada, North America, or Europe.

As a result, the vast majority of the value of coffee is added when it reaches its country of consumption. It is transported, roasted, blended, brewed, and retailed for significantly more than most farmers can conceive. After all, the amount that you pay for a latte in most coffee shops in North America is more than most growers get for an entire pound of coffee – just let that sink in! 

But what can we do about it? How do we create more equity in the coffee supply chain? Well, that’s where the process of decolonization comes in. 

What does it look like?

One of the main reasons why coffee farmers export their beans is because, in many domestic markets (take Uganda as a prime example), there isn’t much of a market for speciality coffee. This forces producers to ship their products internationally to markets where the demand is significantly higher than it is at home.

While there are some roasters emerging in coffee-growing regions, there’s still not enough to really compete with the international scene and to truly disrupt and reverse the value chain. 

Therefore, the decolonization of the coffee chain through various actions can be impactful. One crucial yet often underutilized tactic is to shift focus back to where a coffee bean is actually produced, by educating consumers about the journey that their morning Americano has taken. This is something that we invest in at Kingha – it’s all about the journey. 

Another key element of decolonization as we see it is an investment in infrastructure and education in coffee-growing communities. Historically, many coffee producers have simply gone with the flow and not questioned where their beans end up or why they’re paid so little. 

It’s our responsibility to raise these issues with the people who grow coffee and to show them that there are ways to raise the price of their produce. The key to this is improving the quality of coffee beans grown in different parts of the world. After all, the better the crop, the higher the price that people will pay for it. 

Although it’s not something that can happen overnight, in the several years that we have worked in southwestern Uganda, we have noticed a shift in growers’ perceptions about what they actually want from their crops. Many are proud to cultivate higher-grade arabica coffee, and they realize that they can get more for their annual yield than was historically possible. 

Ultimately, sustainability and decolonizing the coffee chain come from collective responsibility and reconceptualizing what it means to grow, supply, and retail ethical coffee. This is something that we care deeply about and will continue doing throughout our time working in Uganda with local coffee producers.

Recap: Decolonizing the coffee chain

For us, one of the keys to sustainability in the communities that we work in is putting more money in coffee producers’ hands. This can lead to improved livelihoods, paid school fees, and better health care for families. One of the best ways to achieve this is by decolonizing the coffee chain; by helping coffee producers earn more money for their crops each year, and by looking at different ways to reverse the value chain.

This iterative process is something that we have invested in since starting our Ugandan estate in the southwestern region of the Pearl of Africa, and we’re starting to see some positive results. If you’re keen to learn more about our coffee story, be sure to follow us on Instagram for regular updates!