Mechanism of change: Getting more from the Zebu estate
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Over 12-months ago we committed to a journey supporting the only dedicated Arabica coffee farm on the entire island of Madagascar. This week we have started phase 2 of project 'Régénération'.
The Zebu Estate is a coffee farm owned by a small group of passionate enthusiasts who wanted to make a positive change in the region known as Abudimanga, Itasy. The farm has been running since 2014 and produces only around 700kg of green coffee each year.
A lack of government support coupled with an agricultural knowledge gap has resulted in the Zebu Estate becoming something of an 'Arabica producing island' in a sea of poor quality Robusta. In Itasy infrastructure is barely existent and access to the majority of the region is very difficult. This absent education and wavering government support have led smallholders to develop bad farming practices and as a result, the reputation of Madagascan coffee has been in tatters with the Zebu estate left holding the torch of what Madagascar production once was.
What have we done so far?
In 2020 we had numerous conversations with owners of the Zebu Estate; Danny Skutelis, Njaka Ramandimbiarison, Haja Rasambainarivo and Mikhail Fedoryak, to figure out exactly how we could best support them in firstly the hard work they had done to date and secondly progressing them to the next stage of their production Journey.
Initially, we agreed to find a selection of roasting partners based in the UK and Europe who would be willing to join the journey of support. We were fortunate enough to find a group of exceptional roasters who understood that the price they were paying was not indicative of the quality of the coffee but an opportunity to become part of a unique journey of regeneration for a region.
At this early stage, we were able to freight a total of 25kg into the UK & Europe and once doing so we supported the 5 partner roasters in explaining the story of Zebu to their customers so they too would understand the importance of the increased prices. This small quantity was due to the early stage of our relationships with Zebu, wanting to ensure that we were the partner sourcing organisation that suited their needs. Ultimately, as the contribution we were able to agree with our roasting partners exceeded the prices paid by international traders that Zebu could achieve on their own we created an opportunity for Zebu to cover more of their growing costs and reinvest into their infrastructure.
We're committing to take a much larger quantity of coffee produced from the Zebu estate, this upcoming harvest. If you would like to stay informed with samples, and updates please enter your details into the form above.
What are we doing next?
Our proposed plan with the Zebu Estate always exceeded the capacity of their own production. Based on our previous experience of sourcing coffee from smallholder farmers in the Rwenzori's, Uganda we understood the full potential of purchasing coffee from the community as opposed to trying to produce everything ourselves. The social and economic benefits that this approach holds is exactly what resonated with the owners of the Zebu Estate. The potential impact that sourcing cherries from the surrounding farmers would be an opportunity for long-term stability for the region something that is extremely difficult to replicate outside of coffee.
The 2021 harvest is our combined first attempt at sourcing from a community of farmers that have never sold coffee as red cherries. We agreed to spilt sourcing costs with the Zebu estate to mitigate the risk on their side while offering guidance on our experience with the Rwenzoris.
Our goal for this first harvest is to source 4 metric tonnes of ripe cherries purchased from farmers for $1.2 - $1.4 USD/kg to be processed back at the Zebu Estate where they have all the necessary equipment to control processing. This price is better than what they currently get from independent traders and coupled with the long-term approach of Zebu promises price increases year over year and the reputation progresses.
What problems stand in the way?
Initially, trust, farmers have been selling their coffee processed to traders for many years and we need to break this cycle. To do this we have a local well-respected member of the Zebu team on the ground building relationships with farmers letting them know as soon as they are ready to harvest that we are ready to purchase at a fair price with less effort on their part. However, if they don't want to sell to us, there is little we are going to be able to do.
Mixing of varietals, Robusta is the dominant varietal in Madagascar and we are trying to source only Arabica. This is a recipe for failure. We are working on figuring out the process for ensuring that we source only Arabica, however, we are completely prepared for a 'blended lot' with this first attempt.
Support from Roasters, as we scale up sourcing from Zebu and the smallholders in Itasy, Madagascar, we have the task of finding roasting partners who are willing to join the journey of Zebu Estate. It's essential that we work with forward-thinking roasters who understand the importance of purchasing year after year for these developing producers who can make a real impact on a region. If you would like to learn more about how you could support Zebu and the smallholder farmers, submit your details in the form below.