Fresh-roasted coffee beans are proving to be a viable economic stimulus for a Ugandan village.
A Pennsylvania nonprofit focused on social entrepreneurship in Uganda has poured nearly a quarter of a million dollars into the Ugandan economy just through its first pilot venture, coffee.
The Christian East African and Equatorial Development Trust (CEED), the nonprofit organization that produces and distributes Ugandan Gold Premium Coffee, has been working in a small Ugandan village near Wambabya for almost 10 years.
In 2000, CEED planted the first coffee trees, but it takes three to four years to produce beans. Ugandan Gold Premium Coffee is hand-picked and sun-dried on the Ugandan farm before being imported to the United States to be roasted and sold.
The process is labor intensive but produces some of the best coffee out of Uganda, according to Graham Hodgetts, board member and director of business development and water projects. “It’s better than organic,” Hodgetts said. “The processes we have in place, to pick, dry and hull the coffee beans result in a higher quality Robusta bean than anything else produced in the region.”
CEED, based outside of Pittsburgh in Wexford, Pa., finally brought in modest revenue on the sale of coffee in 2005-06, then nearly doubled revenues for 2006-07. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, sales increased again nearly 20 percent, and CEED board members expect sales this year to increase as well, especially during the upcoming holiday season, when the group markets four-pound Seasonal Coffee Gift Boxes of two Regular Roast, one Regular Decaf, and one Cinnamon Sticky Bun blend for $32 a box.
“What’s nice is that all of the profit goes right back to the community, so you don’t have to wonder how much of your purchase is actually aiding the efforts the nonprofit claims,” said Worth Helms, board president. “We use the money to pay the employees of the farm, run the farm and have the beans roasted and stored once they are in the U.S. The rest of the money is used to fund humanitarian efforts, such as the water wells and funding for a medical clinic.”
The group, established in 1999 to help develop and maintain sustainable, income-generating projects in poverty-stricken areas of the world, is thrilled with their project is a success. The farm, which was planted in 2000, employs 42 local residents year round and 80 to 100 additional during picking season, in an area where unemployment is 60 percent. The group has rehabilitated or drilled 17 water wells in the last several years, financed medical trips to the country for health clinics for the workers’ families, and donated a significant amount of money for a much-needed health clinic in the Bunyoro-Kitara province of Uganda.
Most small nonprofits have difficulty with social entrepreneur projects such as CEED’s Ugandan Gold Premium Coffee venture, according to Scott Leff, associate director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, Pa. Organizations that are created to produce revenue on a nonprofit level under the umbrella of social entrepreneurial spirit often find themselves struggling to make a profit.
“It is creating systemic change; that’s why it works in Uganda. They are using the market to drive social change and improve life and health,” Leff said.
The increase in sales and the amount of aid flowing back to the country are a sign of the project’s success as well, and American coffee drinkers are responding well to the idea, according to Jill Weisbrod, marketing manager for Ugandan Gold Premium Coffee.
“Coffee is a huge export for Uganda, and most Americans can agree coffee is a staple in their daily routine, so the idea works well,” Weisbrod said.
The coffee is sold at several Pittsburgh-area stores as well as online at http://www.ugandangold.com.
Cheryl Scampone, grocery manager for McGinnis Sisters Fine Foods, one of the Pittsburgh-area retailers of Ugandan Gold Coffee, said not only is the coffee for a great cause, but at $8 a pound, it’s a great value as well.
“We’ve gotten all positive feedback,” Scampone said. “Consumers are just thrilled that the money is going back to help.”