“This is our decade! Everyone wants to support women, there’s a gender lens on development and women-owned and run businesses are in the spotlight too. It’s such an exciting period in history. The world is connected like never before, social media bringing our brands to people on the other side of the world instantly. We need to celebrate technology, our brands and ourselves!”
As the founder of Eva’s Coffee, a fast-growing coffee company in Kenya, Eva Muthuuri is definitely grabbing every opportunity she can. Eva’s Coffee – named for herself and also the biblical Eve from the Garden of Eden – markets itself as “Pure from the Women of Kenya” and this ethos is in both the coffee itself and her dealings with the women growers and their communities.
“Coffee paid for my education. I grew up on a coffee farm, and after years working around the world in international development for organisations like the World Bank and the UN I was drawn back home by my love for community and a need to give back to my society here in Kenya. We started out in 2013 when the Sustainable Development Goals were formulated and we wanted to respond to the Aid to Trade thinking of the time. We thought what does Kenya have that the world wants? And of course coffee is the answer!
“My background is public health, and I am bringing some of that to our coffee business too, talking about gender issues and non-communicable diseases with our coffee farmers, creating something more holistic beyond just buying and selling coffee. My grandfather used to walk me through the coffee, showing me how to harvest the berries, teaching me about the farm.” It’s this Eva remembers when she is working with grandmothers on coffee plantations, buying their produce and giving them their small income. “For me this community of women is at the heart of everything I work towards. A fair price, the possibility of rising up higher.” Eva also credits her father for setting her on this coffee business path, and admits that a lot of her striving for success was to make her father proud. “He held my hand and raised me as an empowered girl child, taught me coffee and made me want to always do better.”
Through the MARKUP programme she has been making the most of all the trainings on offer with International Trade Centre (which supported Eva's Coffee via MARKUP) to grow the business, from branding and packaging to marketing and access to finance. “There is a lot of support around now, networking groups to join, women helping women, passing on contacts and linkages across the region, as well as internationally.” The MARKUP EAC Invest virtual event in 2021 also brought a lot of food for thought, and future possibilities. “I’ve come away with so much to think about, lots of connections with financers like USAID and capital investors I hadn’t heard of until now. I didn’t know there were so many possible companies who could invest and help us, and I would never have found them on my own so I’m very grateful for these boosts.”
As young people are inheriting their family farms, and the world has changed around the COVID-19 pandemic, with many having to find new income sources, Eva is finding more and more people arriving on her doorstep asking for advice about coffee farming and the whole coffee value chain. “I know a pilot who has temporarily stopped flying to get his family coffee farm off the ground, and a female engineer got my number to ask advice about how to start farming, having left the family farm and followed another career until now. But the interest and evidence in farming is growing. So many young people are now starting to see a way to make a living from coffee farming and discovering that it isn’t a dirty living where you only seek out an existence but with investment and strategy and good systems and structures in place, profits can be made.”
This also extends to the African diaspora feeling the pull of home and connecting to see if they can become involved, as well as contacts she’s made through her life excited by her coffee company. “Recently I’ve had calls from Switzerland and the USA, people wanting to sell our coffee in their countries, get involved and tell our stories where they are. My old university roommate, who I hadn’t heard from for almost 30 years, heard me on a radio interview in Germany and got back in touch and we’re talking about coffee and tea and exporting to her. The world is so connected now and there are so many possibilities and people linking people. There are many steps to take before this can become a reality but I’m really encouraged by the enthusiasm and interest I am getting from abroad. We need to work out how to get things working at the other end. Warehousing, shipping, price competitiveness, so many things to sort out so we can fit into the international markets.”
One of the jokes Eva loves to tell is that if Eve had eaten a coffee berry instead of an apple, we would still all be living in the Garden of Eden! It’s this optimism and enthusiasm that is pushing Eva and her coffee company forwards, and bringing Kenya’s women along with her.
This story was first published on the MARKUP website. You can find more information about MARKUP there.
Learn more about the International Trade Centre here.
Photo: ©Eva's Coffee