Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania
Kokoa Kamili has a central mission: get more money into Tanzanian farmers hands. Founded by Simran Bindra and Brian LoBue, Kokoa Kamili’s focused ambition and wide impact in the Morogoro region challenged us to categorize them. Like other cacao producers, they purchase, process, and export cacao, but to reduce them to any of these functions would be a major disservice. Kokoa Kamili is what we call a grower-centered organization: their entire operation is shaped around improving the quality of life for Tanzanian farmers through high quality cacao production.
Both founders Simran and Brian come from international development backgrounds. Frustrated with the top down model of aid, they started Kokoa Kamili to make a more direct impact in farmers lives. In just a few years, they’ve succeeded: not only have they paid the highest prices for cacao in Tanzania since their founding in 2013, other buyers in the region have had to follow suit just to compete, raising prices across the Morogoro region.
Kokoa Kamili recognized that Tanzania’s cocoa trade was focused on quantity, at the detriment to farmers. After watching the international craft chocolate movement grow, they saw an opportunity to increase farmers’ standard of living: by shifting focus from quantity to quality, they could increase prices paid to farmers. In Simran’s own words, they only buy the best beans and they’re pretty strict about it too, incentivizing farmers with their 16% (2017) premium above the local market price. And they’re raising the bar for more than just flavor: Kokoa Kamili publishes their prices and uses certified scales when purchasing wet cacao (which is priced by weight), combating inconsistencies farmers encounter with other buyers, which leave with them less than desirable deals, and ushering in a new standard for transparency.
Kokoa Kamili purchases freshly harvested cacao from over 2,000 smallholder farmers. These farmers have a few hectares of land or less, but they face big challenges getting their cacao to market while managing their land. Previously, selling wet (freshly harvested and unfermented) cacao beans had been prohibited in Tanzania - making centralized fermentation, integral to quality, largely impossible. After convincing the local government to wave the law, Kokoa Kamili has successfully demonstrated the importance of a centralized, controlled post-harvest process: farmers get more time to spend on their land, more money for their crop, and an improved quality of life.
Kokoa Kamili’s impact goes beyond their relationships with farmers. With 50 people on staff (who they pay a minimum 2.7 times the local rate) they’re one of the most important job providers in a region typically plagued by low employment. Some of their employees are also cacao farmers themselves, which means they’re able to secure additional income. Equally impressive is their seedling program and nursery: since 2013, Kokoa Kamili has planted over one hundred thousand cacao tree seedlings. About 23% of these were given away for free for farmers or donated to local schools or orphanages as an extra stream of income. The rest were sold for a very low price, equivalent to five cents per seedling, to ensure that farmers only purchase what they can take care of. Elisante, their agricultural field officer, works with farmers to train them in more productive growing and harvesting tactics, increasing yields and quality of their cacao.
Despite their success, Kokoa Kamili still faces challenges. They’re located in the Kilombero Valley of Tanzania, which is about a 12-15 hour drive from the main city of Dar es Salaam. While accessible most of the year, seasonal heavy rains affect access to their facilities. Because of this, Kokoa Kamili mostly harvests from June to November. Each year during their season, competitor buyers are forced to raise their prices to match Kokoa Kamili’s to capture farmer sales, but unfortunately quickly return to their commodity pricing models when Kamili shuts down for the season.
We love the fruity and earthy notes of Kokoa Kamili’s cacao. We celebrate their unique character in our Bourbon Cask Aged bar, as well as our seasonal Ginger Snap. Learn more about Kokoa Kamili here.