As another beautiful day begins I recognize that the beauty of what GLC coffee is building in Western Uganda is that their approach to a traceable supply chain is not trying to reinvent how coffee has traditionally been traded here in the region, but rather they are working within the current system to deliver more value to farmers and customers. There are many people who make their living off of the coffee economy here, and they are very willing to increase the information known about harvest levels, productivity, and more access to markets without having to disrupt the whole system. By working within the current Uganda trading system, Andy and the GLC team have been able to differentiate themselves from the competition, while still being able to deliver commercial coffees at exceptional value.
The biggest difference between GLC and their main competition, the multinational traders, is their presence in Kasese Town. They are well known in the region, and their “foot soldiers” are present every day, not just during the harvest, but throughout the year. Buying agents and farmer groups see the value in this because they have more access to market information, more time to build trust with their buyers, and an opportunity to plan for their future harvests. This stability is highly desired, and only takes the commitment and presence of GLC in the Kasese region.
During the day we visited some commercial traders as well as some of the traceable supply chains that GLC has set up in the Busongora zone to observe the differences. The first visit was to a comercial trader at a village hulling station, owned by “David” near Kasese. David is an important member of this town. He is not interested in traceable coffees, but he is successful in this region because of his access to cash. Being liquid gives him the incredible advantage of always being able to buy coffee cash-on-hand at huge volumes during the harvest. Eventually, the plan is to bring larger buyers like David into the fold but the process will take some time. David’s supply chain is working for him, and the volumes that he supplies are still important for the region.
From David’s operation, we headed to the Busongora zone, where the GLC supply chain is most developed. There we met with a local village huller and 9 lead farmers who are the buying agents for this valley. Now that more and more hulling stations are popping up on the mountain, farmers are only willing to travel 2-3 kilometers to sell their coffees. They have more options, so the value add to GLC coffees is to be on the ground here to intercept coffee before it is aggregated a few more times on its journey to Kasese and Kampala. By getting in on the ground floor GLC is able to capture both the traceability and the coffees before they pass through too many sets on hands on their journey to Farmer Brothers in Texas. The lead farmers travel to nearby zones to buy coffees and transport them to the Busongora hulling mill. From Busongora, these coffees are brought directly to the GLC mill in Kasese and then transported to Kampala for export preparation. There is a lot of trust involved in these transactions, and the ideal situation is to have your own person on the ground to manage and develop these relationships.
Our last stop of the day was at the GLC mill in Kasese, where coffee is milled and shipped to Kampala. Lilian, the QC manager and Ali, the traceability manager, took us through the receiving process at the mill. No traceability premiums are paid without delivery of traceability documents from any seller. Each line of traceability is then entered into an excel sheet alongside the exact kg from each producer who delivered. Ali manages this database from all of the buyers who sell to GLC in Kasese. Even though it seems simple, this concept, in relation to the traditional Drugar supply chain, is revolutionary. Not only does GLC have an estimate of production of what they will receive for the season, but they are also able to track, on a kilo-by-kilo basis, how much of this coffee has come in, and from which sources. The level of planning that this enables GLC to hedge and manage their sales is incredible.
All in all, the work that GLC is doing in Kasese is under development, but it holds the potential to totally transform our Drugar supply chain. I cannot wait to see what happens next year!
Our drive back to Kampala was uneventful; with the exception of a roadside stop for some succulent goat skewers accompanied by pili-pili (hot chilies). What a treat!
Day 5 we are finally diving into cupping some different cup profiles of washed and natural Ugandan coffees with a varying array of defect counts. This is where Christian really shines, and he is currently hard at work talking screen size, taste profile and defect specs with the GLC team. Tonight we head to Kigali to begin our Rwanda adventure with Rwanda Trading Company. Until next time!
–Molly and Christian