How Condesa Co.Lab enhances the quality of producer’s lives

Condesa Co.Lab

Condesa Co.Lab explains how it enhances the quality of coffee grower’s lives through its partnerships at origin and by ensuring great coffee is accessible to everyone.

Operating as a green bean importer out of Australia is no easy feat. The island nation has its own set of rigid biosecurity laws and is thousands of kilometres away from the world’s largest producing regions, but that hasn’t stopped New South Wales-based Condesa Co.Lab. In fact, it has become an extension of a global network of origin-integrated companies, under global commodity trading and processing company ECOM Group.

Through this network, Condesa Co.Lab Sales Manager Oliver Brown says green coffee is sourced directly from farmers by dedicated teams operating in “pretty much every coffee producing origin in the world”.

“Our origin presence allows us to offer farmers pre-crop financing, agronomy training, logistical support, processing, milling and access to a global marketplace,” says Brown. “We work closely with our contacts on the ground at origin to source some of the highest scoring and most exclusive lots in the industry, as well as community and regional blenders, which our larger scale customers can take advantage of. Across the team, we travel to every origin that we work with, strengthening our ties with producers and partners, and searching for the right coffees.”

One of these origin countries is the East African region of Burundi. Condesa Co.Lab sources its Burundian coffees from the Akawa Project, an initiative that supports coffee farmers to develop coffee production through sustainable methods.

“The Akawa Project is a partnership between Condesa’s trade partner Supremo and its direct relationship with Burundi export groups. The project operates 12 washing stations in Burundi, which are used by about 6000 smallholder farmers in the country,” says Condesa Co.Lab Coffee Quality Lab Manager Eli Murray.

The project was launched in 2015, and today, each of its 12 washing stations serves between 450 and 3000 farmers. It began with several action-oriented goals, which included securing high-yield trees and hiring agronomists. It also sought to create a model farm and build a water treatment facility.“Since we joined the project, we’ve seen the coffee quality improve year on year. It sounds really simple, having agronomists teach farmers how to prune a coffee tree, or what kind of natural fertilisers they can use, how to pick cherries, but it has such a big impact,” Murray says.

The project also carried out a topography study across Burundi in 2021, which identified 20 key water sources near its washing stations. After the outflows underwent protection and sanitation, they now provide access to safer and cleaner drinking water for some 1175 households.

“The Akawa Project has also built a plant nursery at the washing station in Kirasa, Burundi. Intended as a pilot project for other washing stations, this nursery will have the capacity for about 200,000 seedlings. These will include a range of young, productive coffee plants, as well as fruits, vegetables, and other tree seedlings that can help farmers diversify their income and provide shade,” says Murray.

Farmers at each station have also been given goats, which provide them with much-needed manure as a natural fertiliser.

“In the long-term, the hope is that the Akawa Project can serve as a template for other similar projects in Burundi. In turn, the positive effects these social projects deliver for farmers can spread knowledge throughout their communities, improve market access, and create a better coffee industry for all,” Murray says.

Another company Condesa Co.Lab partners with is Capricornio Coffee in Brazil. Brown says the exporter’s mission is to operate as a premium Brazilian specialty coffee company with a global reputation for superior quality, sustainability, and innovation.

“[Capricornio Coffee Director] Luiz Roberto Saldanha Rodrigues is one of the most innovative farmers in the world. He tracks everything from soil temperatures to leaf-area-to-fruit ratios while implementing new technologies and innovations like producing his own local microbiota to fortify plant immune systems, improve nutrient absorption, and increase coffee quality,” he says.

“Luiz is involved with details at every stage of the process. With a degree in agronomic engineering, he is always looking for more scientific knowledge, research studies, and quality information to apply at each step.”

Condesa Co.Lab has also recently begun sourcing coffee from Riverdale Estate, a specialty coffee producer based in the Shevaroy Hills in Tamil Nadu, India. Riverdale Estate has been a family farm for about 100 years and is now managed by brothers Prakashan and Mohan Balaraman. Condesa Co.Lab Business Development Manager Emilie Coulombe says they took over management of the farm in 2005, redeveloping it from the ground up to cater to the specialty coffee industry.

“Many improvements have been made around the farm in the last 10 years, and new varieties such as Panama Green Tip Gesha, Red Tip Gesha, SL9, and SL5B have all been planted,” Coulombe says.

“New infrastructure has also been built, including a cupping lab and temperature-controlled storage, as well as raised drying beds. Riverdale is the only farm in India to produce those two Gesha varieties, which were sourced from Panama and Colombia.”

This year is the first Condesa has sourced coffee from Riverdale Estate, and Coulombe says the company is excited to offer Indian specialty coffee to its roaster partners.

“The farm produces some unique coffees of incredible quality, and both Mohan and Prakashan are incredibly eager to share them with us. Our team, meanwhile, is excited to work with Prakashan and Mohan and looks forward to this being the start of a long-term partnership,” she says.

In Ethiopia, Condesa Co.Lab collaborates with coffee professional Getu Bekele, who has worked as an agronomist, researcher, trainer, and writer, and currently owns export business G Broad Trading. Brown says Bekele is an important figure in the Ethiopian coffee industry and “one of the forerunners of transparent relationships with producers”.

“Bekele works to raise the profile of single producers and increase their market access while also advocating for profit sharing, taking only 10 per cent of the Free on Board price paid to the producers, where the common practice by most exporters would be to take about 60 per cent,” says Brown.

Brown says Condesa Co.Lab will continue to source a number of Ethiopian coffees through Bekele and G Broad Trading, and the many smallholder farmers it showcases.

“In the future, we hope that Condesa will only have more opportunities to source new lots from Ethiopian coffee producers and bring our roaster partners exciting coffees with truly amazing cup profiles,” he says.

Through Condesa Co.Lab, roasters have direct access to origin partners, allowing them to strengthen their connection with producers at the source.

“We want to help build strong relationships between farmers and roasters, and we can’t do that unless we take them to origin countries to understand and appreciate the work they do. It allows them to become invested in farmer’s livelihoods. That’s how long-term relationships are born,” Brown says.

Condesa Co.Lab regularly hosts some of Australia’s largest specialty roasters in countries such as Brazil, Burundi, Ethiopia and Kenya.

“It’s quite an impactful experience and allows roasters to connect with the famers on a personal level,” says Murray.

It’s this direct approach that allows Condesa Co.Lab to maintain a trustful and transparent connection with its partners.

“Because we’ve been working with our farmers and exporters for several years, we’ve been able to foster those relationships a great deal, to the point that we trust them to make buying decisions on our behalf. I think that’s a really powerful tool to have,” Murray says.

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This article was first published in the July/August 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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