Bean There was established in 2005 as Jonathan Robinson set out to realise his dream of creating the first South African Fairtrade coffee company. Despite the organisation’s humble beginnings – originally operating out of Jonathan’s garage – the business has gone from strength to strength and Jonathan is well on his way to achieving his goal to “become the largest and most influential Fairtrade coffee company in Africa.”
Bean There first contacted Shared Interest in June 2009 as they required reliable, long term access to credit at a reasonable interest rate. In South Africa at this time interest rates were as high as 19%, which placed severe limitations on the development of the organisation. Jonathan explains why: “Unlike local coffee companies who can buy coffee on a bag by bag basis, our commitment to fair trade and to the Fero and Coopac communities requires us to purchase coffee upfront in a 12 month cycle. As a small and growing company this puts severe strain on our cash flow and leaves us with very few options for finance. Shared Interest makes our commitment to fair trade possible, and for that we are extremely grateful. We see Shared Interest as not just a financier but a partner in our fair trade model.”
Bean There is completely committed to the principles of fair trade and has incorporated these into the business plan from the very beginning. Jonathan’s personal story is incredibly interesting and shows how personal commitment to fair trade can have a huge effect of the development of the movement.
Jonathan started working life in the IT industry working for IBM and then Dimension Data. When the stock market crashed in 2001 he decided it was a good time to take a gap year, backpacking with his wife throughout the USA, Canada and Europe. Whilst travelling Jonathan met
the founder of Levelground Trading, a fair trade company based on Vancouver Island in Canada. Jonathan states: “I fell in the love with the direct fair trade model and decided to replicate his model in South Africa with a specific African focus. To me the fair trade model, if applied correctly, has such potential to change lives and the resulting shift from aid to trade is a real answer to poverty alleviation in Africa.”
Since this original idea, Bean There has had what Jonathan claims as “a great ride” and have so far managed to grow 100% year on year, which is growth they plan to continue with the help of Shared Interest.
Bean There work with two FLO certified producers, Fero-Coop in Ethiopia and Coopac in Rwanda. Ethiopia was their first origin and continues to be their most popular coffee. Through purchases at Fero-Coop, Bean There is supporting over 3,000 farmers and a greater community of 27,000 individuals. As this relationship continues to grow Jonathan claims: “We are excited about the increased impact our growth will have on this community and look forward to looking at other creative ways of assisting our producers.”
Coopac in Rwanda has over 2,200 members; after a recent visit to the cooperative Jonathan reported that he was “overjoyed to see their shift towards organic practices.”
He continued: “Coffee agronomist Mario Serracin is working with farmers at Coopac, encouraging the use of organic fertilizers and training farmers to produce their own fertilizers through the effective use of coffee pulp.”
Bean There is proud to be the first roaster of certified Fairtrade coffee in South Africa. To Jonathan, fair trade “is something that is part of the Bean There DNA; fair trade for us is not just about how we interact with our producers, but how we treat our suppliers, customers, and staff.
Trading fairly is how we believe business should be conducted and so although we were excited to receive the FLO accreditation, we believe that the action is more important than the label.
It is fantastic to see such positive action and we are delighted to see the first instance of South-South fair trade. South-South shifts the balance of power and dependence to those in emerging economies; a great step forward for Shared Interest customers and the fair trade movement as a whole.“