Hello, I’m Kelle. I’ve been working at Peoples Coffee for about 4 weeks, but enjoying it for much longer. I’m basically the new admin/sales/all-rounder person. Or possibly more accurately: Making-it-up-as-I-go-along.
Two years ago, I knew roughly as much about coffee as your average Wellingtonian, meaning I drank enough of it to sustain an honours degree and two jobs, but still had a bit to learn about what was in my cup.
I fell further into the world of coffee in 2013 when I embarked on a master’s thesis in Development Studies. I’d happened to read an article about inequity in the coffee industry in Timor-Leste. I had always been interested in fair trade, and I wondered to what extent fair trade impacted on the lives of the farmers there.
Six months and dozens of funding applications later, somebody with resources decided the research was worthwhile and I was on a plane.
Armed with a few phone numbers and a very skinny Lonely Planet, I spent the first couple of days trying to reassure myself, and my funders, that I was equipped to investigate what was a very complex and quite specialised subject.
My break came in the form of Pedro Soares, an English student at the local university who cheerfully agreed to accompany me up into the mountainous coffee districts. We stayed with his relatives, and interviewed every farmer we came across on the jungle roads.
I’ve traveled and researched in developing countries before, but I was deeply shocked at the level of poverty that existed in Timor’s rural districts. Timor-Leste is the least developed country in Asia. Its people have overcome hundreds of years of occupation, most recently fighting an extremely bloody resistance against Indonesian control.
The average coffee farmer in Timor makes US$100-250 a year, for their whole family. Infrastructure is almost non-existent, yields are low, and farmers are beholden to three large companies who buy their coffee at very low prices. The coffee is generally sold either to Starbucks, or into instant blends for supermarket shelves.
I was starting to piece together a pretty dismal picture of the reality of being a coffee farmer in Timor. I felt angry, but also impassioned – I realised the transformative potential that fair trade could have in empowering producers, and allowing them greater control over the industry, and greater returns.
Back at home I was realising that anger, passion and Timorese coffee couldn’t completely sustain me, and I probably needed a part-time job while I was writing my thesis. When I saw that Peoples were hiring I jumped on it. I had interviewed Rene as part of my research, and was really drawn to the ethos of the company. I saw an opportunity to be part of an organisation that addressed all those things I was feeling angry about.
So here I am, 20,000 words down, 20,000 to go. I’ve had a crash-course in all things coffee over the past year, and am looking forward to continuing my caffeine-based education.
July 2nd, 2014