East Africa counts almost 9 million coffee growers who directly depend on coffee as their main source of income
East African's coffee production has decreased over the last decade as a result of low levels of farm investment (time, technical skills and financial capital) and soil depletion. Improving access to know-how, quality inputs and knowledge on the safe and rational use of inputs can double the yield and protect soils from exhaustion. Yet there are no incentives for growers to expand input usage, neither is there access to financial services encouraging farmer’s investment. Coffee beans are seasonal; all input costs incur before the harvest, which means that farmers sometimes need to borrow upfront 60% to 100% of their future harvest, all of which can disappear if unfavourable weather conditions or pests and diseases surge.
East African coffee supply chains are predominantly informal. Nearly all produced coffee is sold at the farm-gate through marketing outlets such as cooperatives, village collectors, brokers/agents, exporters and coffee processors. Local traders (commonly known as middlemen and/or assemblers) purchase coffee cherries from individual farmers and farmers groups whether it is moldy, immature, or discolored, and they offer no premium for quality. Most of these traders sell to other big traders or processors leaving the first hand producer with no marginal profit. For many growers, coffee is no longer an profitable business.