Visit to Tanzania for the EAFCA Conference – Part 2

I journeyed to Tanzania and the annual EAFCA (Eastern African Fine Coffees Association) conference as an honored guest of the Association, being asked to give two presentations during the convention. It was a privilege to be invited to be a speaker at the event, a role that I enjoy fulfilling anytime and anywhere in the world where I can talk coffee with a room full of people that love it as much as I do! But I was a little more nervous about developing these two presentations than I normally am, since some of the other public speaking experiences I’ve done in Africa in the past didn’t seem to go as well as I wanted - mostly due to language or cultural challenges. So I spent a lot of hours in the weeks before leaving for Tanzania preparing - and re-preparing - my presentations, trying to make them meaningful and content-rich, while at the same time striving to simplify them so they would make sense to an audience of diverse cultural backgrounds mostly having English as a second (or third) language. In hindsight I realize that I probably over-prepared for the conference, but I suppose that’s better than walking in under-prepared and flopping

The EAFCA event this year was being held at the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge, a hotel and convention facility located north-east of Arusha town in the Tanzanian highlands near the base of Mt. Meru – with its roughly 15,000 ft. elevation, the “little sister” mountain to nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro’s nearly 20,000 ft. height. The Lodge was one of the few venues in Tanzania capable of hosting an event with 750 people or more in attendance - while the region gets lots of visitors from around the world wanting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or go on safari to the nearby Serengeti, business or convention travel to that part of the world is almost non-existent, which explains the lack of larger facilities. The Lodge isn’t all that old, but felt sort of neglected and worn out to me. The room I was assigned, for instance, obviously hadn’t seen guests (or a good cleaning) for a long time. There were half-dollar sized chunks of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling into the middle of the room that crunched underfoot as I unpacked my suitcase. They were still there when I left five days later – apparently vacuuming the room wasn’t high on the maid’s list of priorities. The water in the bathroom’s plumbing and drain lines must have evaporated from lack of use, as it took a couple of minutes for it to begin flowing once the faucet was turned on and the venting air finished sputtered out of the line. I had no hot water for a couple of days (and I really hate cold showers!) and only one towel. But the electricity stayed on for most of the time I was there, which was better than the cottage in Moshi where I had stayed earlier in the trip. Sometimes you take your victories where you find them, especially when traveling in Africa.

My first presentation – a plenary event discussing what “direct trade” coffee is all about and how it works (which I correctly deduced would be a virtually unknown topic to the mostly European and East African audience) – was a surprising hit. I was only allocated about half the amount of time I really could have used to fully talk about the subject, but I was pleased with the number and quality of questions that were asked of me when I was done. In fact, the moderator had to cut the questions off because we ran over the allowed time, which is always the sign of a successful presentation in my book (A copy of my presentation – and many of the others from EAFCA - has been posted on their website).

My second presentation this year at EAFCA was a break-out session discussing the positive (and exploring the negative) things that can happen when the c-market price for green Arabica coffee is at the record-breaking levels of today. As I designed the session, I was betting that an East African audience heavily weighted with producers and exporters would most likely be more aware of the short-term positive financial impact to their operations than anticipating and mitigating the potential long-term negative implications resulting from coffees fetching $2.75 USD per pound today versus the $1.25 USD range they were trading at in 2009. My hunch was a good one, as I discovered during the presentation.

I wanted to be the facilitator of a conversation, rather than simply standing up in front of the room and spouting opinions, so I designed the session quite differently than my first presentation. I started by splitting the attendees out into “teams” of 5 or 6 people each, trying to get a mix of representatives from as many links in coffee’s value chain (growers, exporters, importers, roasters, etc.) on each team as possible.

During the presentation, each team discussed and debated what the positive and negative outcomes of a high c-market could be. To many of the attendees surprise, they discovered that what was a positive outcome for one member of the value chain (let’s say the high price per pound generating desperately needed profits for the grower) could in turn be a huge negative outcome for another member (that same high price per pound creates serious cash-flow and financing problems for the exporter). The importers and roasters present in the room added their valuable perspectives about the danger of high retail prices for consumers eventually curtailing consumption – an outcome those of us in consuming nations fear, but one that few of our counterparts in producing nations had ever considered.

The conversations were so brisk and articulate, and the different value chain participants on each team so engaged, that I extended the session from 90 to 120 minutes – and still had to cut the conversations off at the end before everyone was done! This made me feel that I had done a good job selecting a relevant topic for EAFCA (and selected a team-based, give-and-take format that apparently was a first for many of the attendees).

I needed a strong leader at each table to foster all of the back-and-forth conversations, so I asked for help from seven colleagues in the trade that I knew would be capable of doing the work:

  • Wendy De Jong (Tony’s Coffee & Tea – Bellingham, Washington)
  • Mane Alves (Coffee Lab International – Waterbury, Vermont)
  • Shirin Moyaad (Peet’s Coffee & Tea – Emeryville, California)
  • Morten Wennersgaard (Solberg & Hansen – Oslo, Norway)
  • Jennifer Roberts (Atlas Coffee Importers – Seattle, Washington)
  • Phil Schluter (Schluter Ltd. – Liverpool, England)
  • Kelly Peltier-Amoroso (Allegro Coffee – Thornton, Colorado)

They did an awesome job, and I owe each of them my gratitude (and a couple of beers) next time I see them!
 

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