A Revolutionary Game-Changer
After graduating from the university with a degree in Accounting, I worked in banking and consulting firms until my wife and I founded Rockbern Coffee in 2012. The reason why I went into the coffee business is that I made a promise to my grandfather who was a very passionate coffee farmer. When I left my village, I promised him that I would make a change within the coffee industry in Kenya. My grandfather passed away in 2008 at the age of 88. If he was alive today, he would be exactly 100 years old.
I was born into a coffee farmer’s family, so I understand very well how difficult it is to produce coffees. Driven by this awareness, I am trying to be a revolutionary game-changer in the coffee market in Kenya. The revolution I am talking about here is to connect roasters and farmers to create a win-win relationship. It is a very difficult and painstaking task because there are opponents among multinational corporations, who think that if we promote a direct business model, farmers will become wiser and be more aware of the unfairness of the situation. They fear that farmers’ profit margins will increase multinational corporations’ benefit greatly from the lack of transparency. That is why there are so many opponents.
I am slowly making my ideas known to roasters and colleagues. To start a revolution, one needs to be smart, and don’t die for something that has no value. We have to understand what we can do and what we should not do. It’s not enough to just move forward.
The Politics of Coffee
I understand that TYPICA is a direct business model that gives a breakdown for the supply chain of coffee. I believe that it is a robust model, but if there is one barrier, it is the politics of the coffee industry in Kenya. Farmers are very nervous about politics.
Many buyers visit the production areas every year and they express an interest in buying coffee beans, sadly when a sale does not happen the farmers are left disappointed. We had a visit from a large American company last year, but they ended up not buying and we were forced to pay out in the end. More and more companies are acting like that and they say that they will buy but they will not buy in the end.
When I accompany a buyer to visit a farm, the farmer will call me the next morning and will ask me, “Do you think they will buy the coffee?” If I say, “No, I don’t think they will,” farmers feel sometimes that they don’t want to move forward with the conversation because companies may be losing interest.
The farmers are always looking out for me and they call me often.
“Peter, do you have any projects?”
“Yes, I do. Can I buy the top ten lots?”
“Peter, can you help me improve the quality?”
I say, “Okay, I’ll arrange it.” This kind of exchange continues. Because I can speak from the producers’ point of view, it is very easy for me to establish a relationship with them.
The farm we visited yesterday is where I was born and where my grandfather was also born. This means that I have a farmer’s lineage, so the farmers let me come to them before any executives from a multinational company, and they will listen to my opinion. This is our biggest advantage. I understand the challenges of the producers and I also understand what the overseas buyers want. I can connect those two parties so that I can generate commercial flows and contribute to the market openly and transparently.
When I visit farmers, I sit down and talk with them for a long time while they listen to what I have to say and then we meet again to work once or twice. It is this kind of relationship building that will make a difference in the Kenyan system in the next five to ten years.
The price of coffee in Kenya has skyrocketed. Production has been declining and the cause is not only climate change. The biggest cause is the lack of motivation among farmers. My father runs a coffee plantation, but he isn’t thinking about making a lot of profits. He is satisfied as long as he can make enough money to live on and he does not think about it as a business model. The younger generation is moving to the cities and taking up blue-collar jobs such as construction and drivers and the service industry. The coffee industry has lost its transparency due to multinational corporations, so none of the young people are interested, and none of them want to take over the coffee farming business. They are thinking that they want to develop themselves and get a job where they can earn more money.
To train the younger generation, we first need to get them passionate about what they do. Specifically, I can say, “You will definitely produce good coffee and you will earn a lot of money, so how about investing your time and money on producing coffee?” It is necessary to say this.
There is no way for the changes to happen among the people who work in multinational corporations because they are the type of old government employees who lack inspiration. They are just on their way to hell. We are trying to change the situation. We are trying to inspire people to see the coffee business as a wonderful thing. The business models from overseas like TYPICA can also change the industry. I believe that now is the starting point.
The Three Pillars that Support My Life
I have three pillars I live by in my life. The first one is my faith and my relationship with God. The second is my relationship with people, especially with my family. And the third one is my health. I believe that having a healthy body and mind is very important. You may be surprised to know that my business is not one of the three things. Well, that is my approach to life. My family is my top priority and I guess I’m from that generation.
I am strongly motivated to transform the world rather than making a profit. People are more important than anything else, it’s all about people. Coffee is a drink that connects people with happiness. I believe in the beauty of coffee as such, and I think about the happiness of everyone involved in the supply chain, not to mention the farmers and employees. In other words, being happy is the only value we value.
Peter said to us, “I meet with you and am thinking about what I can do for you and then build a relationship that will be remembered in ten, fifteen, or twenty years. I will keep my promises on the business agreements, ensure delivery when ordered, and resolve any problems quickly when they occur. We care about people and not profits; I take a long-term view of everything.”
“I can source top-quality coffee from the farmers and I make sure that the farmers are compensated fairly with TYPICA’s payment. That’s the beauty of this business model and I will do my best to facilitate your business. I hope you will enjoy our coffee from Kenya.”