In 2017, we had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder, Gorilla Conservation Coffee. She was going through the Growth Africa Accelerator programme in Uganda and we were inspired by how she had collaborated with farmers in Bwindi to train them on how to grow and process quality coffee while protecting the mountain gorillas that dwell in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest.
We caught up with Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka recently to find out more about the growth and impact of Gorilla Conservation Coffee as well as their expansion to new markets and what is in store for the future.
Update on Gorilla Conservation Coffee
Back then, Gorilla Conservation Coffee was engaging 75 farmers and now the number of farmers has grown to 500. They have embraced a model farmer network with support from Solidaridad where 25 model farmers each mentor 20 farmers. The number of women farmers being engaged has also grown from only 5 women in 2017 to 120 women, a good number of which are women youth coffee farmers, which was not the case before. To extend the impact in the community, Gorilla Conservation Coffee is also working with reformed poachers who have handed their tools to the Uganda Wildlife Authority and have embraced coffee farming.
How they overcame the challenge of not having a major market for green coffee
The biggest challenge they faced in 2017 was not being able to sell green coffee at a high price because most customers were more willing to buy roasted branded coffee at a high price as compared to the green coffee, which is more available on the market. However, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka says they have made great progress in that area,
“One thing GrowthAfrica taught us was to really understand your customer so that you are able to realise the full potential of your business. We have been able to segment our customers and find those who are willing to buy green coffee at a high price. We now have a market in America. The customers buy the green coffee then and roast it and co-brand it in America and New Zealand as Gorilla Conservation Coffee.”
They have also had interest from a leading roaster in Holland and there is a lady who is hoping to market the coffee in different countries. What made the difference is they have found the right specialty roasters and traders who understand the story behind the coffee, the quality of it and they are willing to buy it at a higher price.
The biggest challenge Gorilla Conservation Coffee faces now is not being able to satisfy the demand for their coffee which is higher than the supply.
“Now that we have created a market and built a strong brand that people know about, we do not have enough working capital to be able to buy coffee from farmers so that we satisfy the growing market.”
They not only sell their coffee in Uganda but also in America, New Zealand, South Africa, Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Kenya. Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka added that they are currently looking for affordable financing so that they have working capital to buy coffee from the farmers and satisfy the demand.
Another major challenge they are facing is having to compete with brands that put gorillas on their packaging, yet they are not working with gorillas and farming communities adjacent to gorilla habitats. She admits that these brands confuse the market and there is need to differentiate themselves from them. To address this, they have partnered with Solidaridad on a plan to get special certification for coffee brands that support gorilla conservation.
Gorilla Conservation Coffee has received a lot of global recognition since 2017. In 2018, Coffee Review ranked them among the top 30 coffees in the world giving them a total of 92 points. That raised their profile globally and created opportunities for them to get more orders because the coffee is good and the story behind the coffee is great.
They have also grown their number of outlets from 30 to 60. The Gorilla Conservation Café in Entebbe is very popular especially among tourists and expatriates who get to sample the coffee before they buy. The café has experienced baristas and Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka noted that more Ugandans are drinking coffee which has helped them create a community around the coffee.
In September 2017, the UNEP Switch Africa Green (SAG) awarded Gorilla Conservation Coffee a Seed Award Winner. As part of the award prize, they got help in perfecting their business plan and they were put in contact with potential partner organisations.
In 2018, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka was the second African to win the Sierra Club Earthcare Award, which has only been won before by Prof. Wangari Maathai. She won the award in recognition of her unique approach to environmental conservation.
In August 2019, they emerged 2nd at the Startup Africa Road Trip Awards. This award opened up an opportunity to visit Italy in 2020 where they will meet potential buyers and investors.
In February 2020, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka’s Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) which created the Gorilla Conservation Coffee social enterprise won the prestigious St. Andrews Prize for the Environment in recognition of their significant contributions to environmental issues and concerns through the One Health approach with a focus on sustainability, conservation, biodiversity and community development.
The winning prize of USD 100,000 from the award will enable Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) to replicate a community-based health and conservation model in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Impact from the GrowthAfrica Accelerator
Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka was motivated to join the GrowthAfrica Accelerator back in 2017 because she wanted to get better at running the business and learn how to attract investors.
“At the time, we only had one investor, World Wildlife Fund for Nature Switzerland and we wanted to connect with more potential investors. We liked the fact that GrowthAfrica makes you more prepared for investors and shares practical tips on how to attract the right impact investors.”
She also appreciated the recognition that GrowthAfrica has given them through profiling them and raising awareness on Gorilla Conservation Coffee saying it has contributed to building their brand and attracting support.
GrowthAfrica is also supporting them in registering as a B-Corp company which Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka admits will help to raise their profile in America.
What’s in the future?
The future is bright for Gorilla Conservation Coffee. They plan to engage as many farmers as possible around the Bwindi area and strengthen tracking along their triple bottom line, which is social impact, financial impact and environmental impact including reduction in poaching. They are also looking into scaling to other countries especially countries with communities that have gorilla habitats like Rwanda, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Related articles: https://growthafrica.com/coffee-farming-saving-mountain-gorillas-uganda/