Sunday, February 2, 2014

“Follow the Coffee” Part II

In my January 7 post I mentioned sending out a few emails to companies asking them about a bag of coffee my friend purchased at a store that said it was “organic” and came from Aceh.  I traced the “provenance” of this bag to two organizations: Project 7, and Topco, who is a distributor of “store brands” to large supermarket chains.  Full Circle, the company listed on the coffee bag, is one of their distributors.

This is the email I sent to Topco:

Dear Topco:
Building Bridges to the Future supports a local sustainable livelihoods agency in Aceh province, Indonesia, called Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD) that in part that helps farmers increase coffee production. We understand that your company distributes a brand of coffee called Full Circle Coffee, Organic Medium Roast Sumatra Aceh Ground.
To help JMD better serve coffee and cocoa farmers in Aceh, we are conducting a survey from "the other end of the value chain" to see if we can trace our farmers' coffee from the store back to its origins, and if importers and distributors have information regarding the provenance of their product.
Can you let us know how Topco verifies that its "Sumatra Aceh ground" coffee comes from Aceh?
Which is the entity that verifies certification and farm location?
There are several "certification" bodies and we'd like to know which one your company chooses when it is purchasing beans from the importer.
Thanks in advance for any and all information you can give us.

On January 24 I received this email back from Topco:

Subject: Full Circle Coffee
Thank you for your request, but our vendor and certifications of this product are company information and therefore propriety information. Please be assured that any claims on the package are correct and have been verified.
Thank you for your time and have a great day.
Ticket #269691
Consumer Services Team

I am not really great with languages, but I think this translates to “Buzz off.”  Thoughts?

I wonder if Project 7 will ever write back.

It reminds me: I saw some interesting Twitter feed the other day from an organization called Coffee_Aceh, and when I went to find out more about them, their website, which has been up since 2010, had no information on it --I mean, it was blank, except for some photos that said “our farmers” and the only thing their Facebook page said was

Promoting coffee in Aceh
Mission: To sell direct from the farmer to the consumer

Both this, and the text on the coffee bag and myriad websites are admirable sentiments, but they all lead to dead ends.  None of the people saying or writing these things knows, I am convinced, if what they are saying is true.  The coffee could have come from anywhere.  How can Aceh establish itself as a leader in specialty commodities like cocoa and coffee if we cannot verify the value chain?

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