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Freeman trading

Working beyond Covid-19

Believing in fair and direct relationships with suppliers, Freeman Trading Founder Leon Woffenden began his career working on local market stalls in the UK. He describes himself as ‘an extensive traveller who has since traded with communities as far afield as East Timor to Tibet’. Subsequently, he believes this connection with coffee farmers is the core of business success. 

Putting fair trade and sustainability at the forefront, Freeman Trading works closely with Peruvian farmers. In collaboration with their customer, Easy Jose, and partner Kaffee Satipo, they have been working on a project to benefit the Mayni indigenous community in Junin, Peru. This year, they financed the growers to become both Fairtrade and Organic certified. 

Although the pandemic has prevented Leon from visiting producer communities in person, he has continued to provide vital support. However, coupled with the diminishing demand for specialty coffee, travel and lockdown restrictions have also posed problems for the social entrepreneur. Leon told us how he had to adapt his business model quickly, to ensure the harvested coffee was not wasted.

“With 65 metric tonnes of green coffee sat on the floor, I needed to find alternative routes to market. With the new harvest already underway, my coffee on the floor would soon become past crop (once the new season arrives the old crop loses value and no longer trades at min world price, basically selling for a loss). 

“Fortunately, all the coffee types we purchase are both Fairtrade and Organic certified. This would prove crucial in finding a good price as this coffee now carried a minimum price.

“With a good friend in the industry, we were introduced to a large supermarket supplier who as luck would have it, was short on Peruvian Fairtrade Organic coffee. In just one sale, we managed to sell 30% of our stock. This provided some vital financial security for the business going forward into the unknown. Throughout lockdown, our sales remained low but steady as customers ramped up their online delivery service.” 

Leon continued: “Sadly, the situation in Peru remained difficult, as although quicker than the UK to implement travel restrictions, they still suffered a huge amount of Covid-19 cases. This was largely due to socioeconomic factors, as most Peruvian households do not own a fridge for instance. This means that families are reliant on daily visits to local markets. “Arguably, this was good for maintaining buoyancy in the local economy but the consequences of large volumes of people congregating in small crowded places unfortunately proved to be a huge source of transmission. 

“Meanwhile, the coffee harvest was looming and labour was short on the ground as seasonal workers were still bound by travel restrictions. Rumours of shortages were driving up demand and with it, the internal market price. 

“With speculation and uncertainty increasing for farmers, we began to see some of our producers selling their coffee in-country. We subsequently took the decision to purchase coffee directly from the producers via our partners Kaffee Satipo.” 

In 2018, Freeman Trading helped finance and establish the Kaffee Satipo co-operative in Peru, in order to manage their supply of coffee, which was sourced from indigenous communities rather than smallholder farmers. 

Leon continued: “With our coffee supply chain pre-financed, we still had to secure a further 19 tons of additional coffee. This was undoubtedly a risk. However, having Kaffee Satipo on the ground at this point was crucial and mitigated the many risks involved. Through their involvement and our trading partners we achieved this.” 

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