In the city of Gothenburg lives a man who rides his skateboard to go to work. Every day he moves through traffic and pedestrians to work with the product that he loves so much: Coffee. Although he is the driving force behind coffee roasting comapny Coffea Circulor, it is not roasting coffee that get’s him out of bed each morning. It is a project in Kenya that fuels his passion over and over. Meet Ivica Cvetanovski: founder of the Kenya Ruby project.
Ever since Ivica approached me for a review of his coffee, we stayed in touch and have been talking coffee weekly for almost a year now. At one point he explained that working as a roaster is hard work; carrying bags of green beans, the smell of roasting that seems to linger forever, labeling coffee, figuring out what company offers the best transport, doing taxes and setting the coffee prices. The actual roasting, he told me, only covered 5% of the work he does. It was a surprise to me when I noticed that his passion really started to flare up when he was talking about this project he has started with a farmer called Macho: The Ruby project.
In 2010 the Ruby project started. I was visiting Kenya when the farmer (Macho) was removing some SL-trees in order to plant the more resistant varietal Batian. At that moment the idea came to me to help him out and together create a natural process that wouldn’t use as much water as the traditional washing process would. At that time I started similar projects in Uganda, Panama and Colombia and was aided by the Norwegian government with some funds. It was this particular project that really caught my attention and before I knew it, I was helping out by sharing my ideas and knowledge with Macho.
The Kenya Ruby project.
The project was meant to lower production costs and minimize water usage for coffee production in a country that traditionally does not employ natural drying techniques. With the new Natural Hypoxia Pure process, the environment benefits immensely in comparison to the water-wasting washed process. The next step would be for farmers to be able to grow competition-quality coffee, ensuring a more stable position financially wise. The reason is that the predicament of the coffee industry in Kenya is dire to say the least. Farmers in Kenya are selling their coffee per kilo and below the cost price of coffee itself. This is a sad result of the prices on the world market and it forces the farmers to collectively bring their coffee to a washing station. There, the coffees are sold per kilo and no-one even bothers to look at the quality of the coffee that each farmer brings in.
On the other hand, mold and diseases might ruin entire crops which leaves the impoverished farmers even poorer.
The typical Kenya cup profile is mostly determined by the SL28/SL34 but these varietals are also very susceptible to leaf-rust and other diseases and molds. These varietals are also hard to prune and maintain and provides the farmers with a lot of hard labour. This, in combination with the low world market price for coffee, doesn’t give any incentive to farmers to keep growing quality coffee. If only the weight of the gathered coffee matters, why bother investing for more quality. More and more farmers are thus changing to more resistant varietals such as Ruiru 11, K7 and Batian, changing the cup profile in the process. Although this is sad, it is also quite understandable that it’s happening. The farmers want a financially secure future and growing these varietals gives them just that.
The Kenya Ruby project.
The Ruby project took off and all went well in the beginning. It wasn’t until 2016 that a huge infestation of mold destroyed the crop and Ivica and Macho had to start all over again. Thankfully, Macho still had other varietals on his farm that produced some high quality coffee and provided him with some financial security. Having to start over, his companion decided to take the easy way out and focus his attention on a more rewarding project elsewhere. Ivica stayed and, together with Macho, started re-building the project once again. This time, no catastrophes happened and in 2019 the very first harvest was a fact. The quality of the coffee was unexpected and although the amount of coffee isn’t huge, Ivica and Macho see this as a great omen for future harvests.
We are very happy to see the harvest succeeded as it is. The harvest is huge, but you have got to start somewhere and we look to the future with great confidence. Macho now has a huge impact on the quality of the coffee. He handpicks and sorts the coffee, doing a quality check at the same time. The process that we use for this coffee, the Natural Hypoxia Pure process, added quality to the results as well. On top of this all, I pay Macho an initial price for his coffee in advance. After selling all the coffee here at Coffea Circulor, we deduct the overhead and other costs and then divide the profit amongst ourselves. Macho now knows how much his coffee sells for and thus knows his worth. In turn, he will try to improve the quality of his coffee even more while using this new process that is easier on the environment. The Kenya Ruby is the only and first single farm, natural Batian coffee in the world.
The coffee prices we want.
And this is exactly what makes this project so unique. Ivica and Macho are working together on this multilayered project that provides so many advantages to the farmer, the environment and the farmer alike.
This, however, was still not enough for Ivica Cvetanovski and so he added yet another layer to the project: customer expectancy vs true development cost. Ivica created this layer to create awareness about the true cost of producing coffee versus what people in the first world countries think are acceptable coffee prices. The results are staggering and hit me in the face like a brick. Ivica found that people were willing to pay between €14,- to €18,- for 250gr of Kenyan coffee. These prices are calculated by roasters after buying the coffee on the green market but don’t take into account the hours that farmers spend working on growing this coffee. If a farmer would actually charge per hour worked instead of price per kilo, the true development price for the Kenya Ruby would be €81,- per 250gr of coffee.
During this project I noticed how much labour and development costs went into the process of growing this coffee. Hours of work that aren’t registered anywhere or even added to the cost of producing coffee. Remember that the world market coffee prices are below the cost price at the moment. This made me think about the price I should ask for the coffee per 250gr and eventually I came to the sum of €81,- euro. After doing a little research I came to the conclusion that people simply don’t know about this and thus aren’t able to change it either. This has everything to do with awareness about coffee; people see coffee as a lower shelf product that should be available at all times at a small price. It has been like this forever so who can blame them. Unfortunately, times are changing and people will come to realize soon that coffee is getting more expensive. The prices we pay today, are gone tomorrow.
By adding the option of buying this coffee for the true development price of €81,- I hope to inspire people to become aware of the industry behind the beans that they grind. I hope to create awareness that a product such as coffee should be more expensive because of all the hard labour that goes into growing and harvesting it. Perhaps it is also to soften the blow for them because the fact is that the future of coffee isn’t that bright at all. Within the next decades, prizes will rise if we keep exploiting farmers like we do now. More farmers will abandon growing coffee because it’s not providing them and their families with food, education and healthcare at all. With great pride I do want to mention that quite some of coffee lovers have bought the coffee for the ‘true development prize’. It makes me happy to see that a change in awareness apparently is already happening.
From the writer: Coffee prices say it all.
By the time you read this, Ivica has started to expand the Kenya Ruby project to the region of Nyeri, Kenya. Helping yet more farmers, and creating more awareness with the public is the way to go forward when thinking of keeping the coffee industry alive. In my opinion it is creating awareness that is most important, and not telling consumers that they are doing things wrong. Coffee prices say enough if one cares to take a closer look. Articles like this, projects like this and people like you (yes you, the reader) are the key to help the coffee industry survive for the next generations.
Please take a look at www.coffeacirculor.com and learn more about this wonderful roasting company and Ivica Cvetanovski as a person.