In March of 2009, Mocha Joe's Roasting Co. partnered with the Farmer’s Cooperative Initiative, a group of U.S. roasters and investors working with 31 farming families in the Northwest of Cameroon, to pre-finance and import the first container of specialty-grade coffee to the U.S. from Cameroon.
Cameroon is the only country in West Africa with a climate and elevation suitable for specialty-grade Arabica coffee. In order to begin the process of elevating the coffee to specialty status, Pierre and Ingrid (a long-time employee of Mocha Joe’s) traveled to Cameroon during the 2009 harvest season to oversee and train coffee sorters in SCAA defect identification.
While our initial focus was on sorting techniques, over the next few years we expanded our focus to improving crop quality at the farm level. We and our consultants have been working closely with local agronomists to train farmers to recognize common problems with the coffee that cause defects in the cup and how to combat them.
In the winter of 2011, Pierre and his family spent four months living with coffee farmers in the Cameroonian village of Fongo Tongo. They were there from December through the spring to oversee harvest, milling, and export. Pierre hired Philip Younyi, a wonderful local agronomist who has worked with coffee in Cameroon for 10 years, to be our Director of Operations in Cameroon. Philip is our first full-time Cameroonian employee.
Though the Cameroonian farmers with whom we work are under no contractual obligation to sell to us, Mocha Joe’s pays above market price for conventional (non-organic) coffee in exchange for the higher quality of coffee that results from careful sorting and farming techniques. This is not only beneficial to the farmers we work with but for other farmers in the region as well, since other buyers must compete with us by paying more.
In 2012, Mocha Joe’s took on the challenge of getting Organic Certification for a group of farmers. We have concentrated these efforts in Oku, a town in the Northwest region where many farmers have traditionally practiced organic farming techniques, although without being certified. We have been working both with farmers who are ready to undergo the certification process and those who would like to transition to organic farming over the next few years. In the spring of 2012, we hired Kevin Booth, an American agronomist living in Cameroon, to work under Philip and oversee the Organic Certification process.
The spring of 2013 brought a huge success to the farmers: the first ever Certified Organic coffee from Cameroon! We had 54 family farmers attain USDA Organic Certification and are looking to bring more into the project. Mocha Joe’s offers farmers 40% above market price for organic coffee.
Mocha Joe’s isn’t only interested in Cameroon insofar as it provides us with fantastic coffee. We want the Cameroonian farmers to have a stable, sustainable business independent of our mutually beneficial relationship. The time that Pierre and Ingrid have spent in Cameroon, along with the relationships they’ve developed there, have allowed them a panoramic view of the many challenges facing coffee workers in the country. These challenges include crops of coffee trees that offer low yields due to their age and a predatory loan system that requires farmers to forfeit their coffee harvest to exorbitant interest rates of 200%.
In 2012, Mocha Joe’s began a loan program that allows Cameroonian farmers to take out no-interest loans on up to 50% of their coffee before and during harvest season. Philip and Kevin also planted a nursery that, in the long-run, will provide farmers with younger, more efficient coffee trees.
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The fruit of our Direct Trade program in the Northwest of Cameroon, “Oku” has a creamy body, caramel sweetness, and notes of bittersweet chocolate and black currant. Its flavor profile makes it a truly unique African coffee.