Growers First uses a distinctive trading model that, while sharing some of the values and methods of the Direct Trade and Fair Trade models, aims to keep the farmer at the center of the supply chain and ensure that coffee communities earn maximal economic returns for their hard work.
We call our methodology "Traceable Transformation" and it has proven to be an effective means of providing quality coffee while kick-starting agricultural and community development….all through a 3 phase process that is transparent for all parties.
The GF organization encompasses a non-profit and a for-profit arm, and so is able to engage with coffee communities on a variety of issues, such as economic, agricultural, and community development. We may have some of the necessary tools, but the communities with which we work are in the driver seat and use democratic methods to determine their priorities and the direction of development.
The Supply Chain:
Farmer --> Cooperative --> Importer/Roaster/Retailer --> You!
The General Growers First Trajectory:
1) Cooperatives: Coffee communities form collectives (like in the Fair Trade model) to diffuse costs and increase selling power. A percentage of coffee revenues are also shared within the collective and directed towards agronomic or community efforts agreed upon by the group.
2) Agronomic Development: Farmers work with GF-funded agronomists to adjust growing methods, with the goal of increasing quality, yield, and marketability. Many coffee growers are unaware of the demands and desires of the Western market, so GF has proven to be a valuable source of information and training that allows farmers to ultimately receive maximum returns from market participation.
3) Organic: Growers team up with organic specialists to discuss how to achieve organic certification. Methods for minimizing environmental impact and maximizing soil longevity and other natural resources are discussed.
4) Commodities Training: Growers learn about how the international coffee trade works, the market they produce for, and how to capture the highest premium for their goods.
5) Connections: GF links cooperatives to potential buyers, and this direct relationship increases farmer profits.
This list does not discuss GF's more socially-oriented programs (that post will come later), but the measures above alone have shown to increase the value of existing coffee crops by 120%, which translates to an 135% increase in grower returns. Synergy and a striving for best-practices make this remarkable increase possible.
Phase Two is like a reinforcement of the process developed in Phase I and gives the growers and their families the tools to grow self-sufficient, valuable businesses.
--Expanding cooperative activities with processing facilities, nurseries, and even a roaster, which allows villagers to sell packaged coffee directly to local and regional markets
--Crop diversification (raising livestock or planting trees in addition to growing coffee, for example)
--Facilitation of micro-loans for farmers and cooperatives to pursue value-added or social projects
--Leadership and governance training to improve the cooperatives as well as business and agricultural practices
Phase Two has shown to result in an additional 300% improvement in profits, but is beneficial in countless other, less quantifiable ways for the farmer, the family, the community, the land, and the entire system involved in coffee production.
By Phase Three, things have stabilized and improvements can be implemented at the discretion of the community. Seller-Buyer relationships have been cemented, income has become dependable, and communities are more aware of the opportunities and tools available for development in all aspects of life.
Most importantly, these communities have found their voice and with it, the ability to demand fairness in the marketplace. Empowerment and hope are the real goals of what we do, because with them, the coffee communities themselves can take over their own transformation.
So, while the Grower's First Model is much more than simply a trade relationship, we think it's a pretty good--and effective-- prototype for improving the lives of coffee farmers and communities and, as a result, the coffee in your cup!