One of the reasons FLTR exists is that it’s a place for me to document everything I learn about specialty coffee. I explain more here. In this article, we’ll look at the business of trading coffee.

And who better to teach us about the industry than one of the biggest in the world, Sucafina. The family business began in 1905 in in Jaffa, Palestine. Today, based in Geneva, Switzerland, SUCAFINA remains a family-owned business. Albeit a much bigger one with 1,200 employees from 40 nationalities in 44 locations.

We spoke to Senior Trader, Imad El Karkafy.

What exactly does Sucafina do? Tell us a bit about the company’s history.

In a nutshell, Sucafina is a multinational green coffee merchant.

I’ll start with a little history: Sucafina’s founding family (the Tamari family) has been involved in commodities since 1905, when the family business was established in Jaffa in Palestine, exporting oranges and importing foodstuff.

Sucafina, itself, was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1977 and initially dealt in sugar (SU), coffee (café – CA), and finance (FINA), which is where the name comes from. Two generations later, we are still a family-owned business – now entirely focused on coffee.

We’re active in the sourcing and processing of coffee in almost every coffee growing country, and we work with around 200,000 farmers around the world. We also supply coffee to roasters in nearly every corner of the globe. Sucafina is very well known as the premier supplier of East African coffees, and we have a growing footprint in Brazil, Colombia, and the Asia-Pacific region, including China, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Vietnam.

And what is your role at Sucafina? What does a Senior Trader do?

I currently head our sales activities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and I’m also part of our trading and sourcing team in West Africa. I oversee the physical trading of green coffee to MENA countries, and I develop and grow our existing network of roasters and wholesalers while constantly evaluating current market trends to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the roasters we work with. When I am sourcing coffee in West Africa, I focus on managing relationships with our existing sourcing network while keeping an eye out for new opportunities.

“Sustainability” feels more like a buzzword, a marketing message, rather than a commitment. What can members of the specialty coffee value chain do to make a real commitment?

Protecting our planet and coffee growers is vital, and it’s our shared responsibility. As coffee professionals, we have to push even more towards sustainably sourced coffee that’s great value and tasty. I also believe that final consumers have a crucial role to play. They can be just as effective at initiating change as other key stakeholders in the chain. We, as importers and, ultimately, as consumers, could choose to buy only sustainable and responsibly sourced coffee. Unfortunately, the MENA region is still lagging in this: quality is still the driving force for specialty business, and price is still the main driver for commercial coffee sales.

Thanks to technological advances, our capacity to truly enhance sustainability in the supply chain is evolving faster than ever. Innovative platforms, such as farmer connect, can increase transparency and traceability, allowing every actor in the supply chain, from grower to final consumer, to be well informed – if they choose to be.

farmer connect uses Blockchain technology to connect farmers digitally to the supply chain. It has tools that validate and securely store producers’ transaction data and credentials and allow consumers to trace the origins of a product and, therefore, to have greater confidence in the authenticity of the process.

At Sucafina, the concept of ‘shared value’ is at the heart of our sustainability approach. We are committed to reshaping the coffee industry to create shared value for all.

And sustainability is embedded into every part of our business. To hold ourselves accountable to our commitments, we provide progress updates in our annual sustainability reports, which we share publicly and openly via our website. We always aim to explain what we do simply and concisely, using visuals and statistics to make information more accessible.

Our ambition is to continue to improve and, with time, report more comprehensively on our actions and progress each year. We know we still have a long way to go on our sustainability journey, but we’ll continue investing in conscientious, sustainable growth and in how we communicate our sustainability efforts to our clients and stakeholders. We are already seeing shifts towards more socially responsible and sustainable supply chains, and we are confident this will continue.

What is Sucafina’s strategy for sustainability? Tell us more about “IMPACT”.

At Sucafina, sustainability has long been at the heart of the way we do business. Our 2030 sustainability strategy focuses on three key action pillars: Caring for People, Investing in Farmers, and Protecting Our Planet. Last year, we developed an action framework, defining three main goals and a series of actions for each pillar, with key performance indicators so that we can better monitor our progress.

IMPACT is Sucafina’s responsible sourcing program that benefits farmers, traders, and roasters to create a fairer, more resilient coffee industry. It is one of the most important tools for delivering our strategy and our purpose to sustainably reshape our industry to create stakeholder value.

Through the IMPACT Sustainability Standard, the program assures roasters, farmers, and buyers that practices along Sucafina’s supply chain are ethical and sustainable. But IMPACT goes beyond compliance and sustainable sourcing by promoting measurable, positive change in five key areas of sustainability: 1) reducing carbon emissions, 2) reducing deforestation, 3) promoting human rights for farmers and farm workers, 4) improving farmers’ living incomes, and 5) increasing the adoption regenerative agriculture practices.

We launched IMPACT as a commitment to the future of coffee and as a response to the growing demand for responsibly sourced coffee. Many major brands have pledged to be 100% responsibly sourced by 2030. With the launch of IMPACT, we want to help roasters of all sizes achieve their sustainability and responsible sourcing goals.

Farmers are at the heart of our business, and they need to be at the heart of our sustainability goals and practices. Through IMPACT and across our overall sustainability strategy, we want to to support farmer resilience and ensure a fair and decent standard of living for those growing our coffee.

Tell us more about your “Manifesto”?

As I mentioned before, shared value is the cornerstone of everything we do. We want to be a leader in driving greater fairness for all actors along the value chain. We’re proud that our position as an importer enables us to equitably deliver value to our partners at origin and roasters around the globe. We realize that every farmer produces a variety of different qualities, and Sucafina Specialty works with them, hand in hand, to help find a home for all their coffee, from macrolot to microlot.

We are proud of our more than 100 years of supply chain management and commodity trading experience. We understand coffee’s value along the chain, especially for producers and roasters. We tend to take the long view while also delivering short-term returns. We have ambitious goals, but we also recognize that we cannot revolutionize the world overnight. We believe that by admitting our constraints and celebrating the small victories, we can maintain a realistic overview of the work we are doing and its potential for change.

From Blockchain-enabled ledgers to using digital services to make farmers bankable to simply having the very best online position management portal around, we are at the forefront of using technology to make the coffee universe better. For everyone.

Why invest in AgroSmart? What does AgroSmart do and how do they fit into the Sucafina business?

Sucafina announced its investment in AgroSmart, in partnership with LemanVentures, earlier this year. AgroSmart is a platform that collects and processes data to generate insights to help farmers make data-driven decisions and respond to challenges posed by climate and climate change. 

The main purpose of AgroSmart is to improve the quality of the insights provided and support companies in the whole food system as they transition to a more productive, sustainable, and climate-resilient supply chain. Their network includes more than 100,000 farmers and over 90 crops, across nine countries in Latin America.

This investment is part of Sucafina’s agribusiness investment division, which is focused on investing in companies that are developing innovative solutions at the intersection of sustainability, technology, and new consumer trends.

I’m happy to pay a premium for specialty coffee but does feel, though, that UAE consumer pricing is really high. How do you feel about coffee-shop pricing in the UAE? 

I am not the best person to answer this question, because I’ve never had the chance to live in Dubai. I’m not that familiar with the cost of operations for roasters, like rentals, salaries, and so on. However, we have seen a decent rise in demand year-on-year, mainly for specialty coffee. We’re always seeing new coffee shops popping up. This seems like a good indicator of a healthy market. After all, the more competition, the better prices we should get as final consumers.

To understand the plight of the coffee farmer requires some Googling, which I’m happy to do because I like to do the research to understand. What can consumers do to understand what coffee farmers do to deliver good beans? 

Consumers are more connected than ever. I highly encourage people to read and learn more about the latest innovative technology platforms including AgroSmart, farmer connect, and many others.

Technology can strengthen farmers’ resilience. Today, supporting farmers is absolutely necessary, and increasing traceability and transparency in the supply chain boosts efficiency and results in higher profitability for farmers. Access to technology can help them improve the consistency, quality, and quantity of their coffee yields and gain more knowledge and visibility on soil and weather events. Knowing when to be alert about threats to coffee trees and when to apply protective inputs such as fungicides and pesticides can be a game changer for crop outcomes.

Paying a premium on coffee to save our planet and support small farmers to be sustainable is ultimately a shared responsibility. The slight increase in price – what we call a premium for certified/verified coffees – gives farmers an edge, because it helps them to mitigate the main two threats of today: climate change and price volatility. It is vital for coffee merchants, roasters, financial institutions, other active third parties, and all of us as final consumers to invest in innovative technology to meet our shared goal of protecting coffee farmers’livelihoods.

Where do you go for a good cup of specialty coffee in Dubai? Do you have a favorite origin? Do you have a favorite brew method? To engage Sucafina, how does a roaster reach out to you? 

There are many and that is the beauty of Dubai ! I recommend Coterra, Specialty Batch, Seven Fortunes, and Nightjar. My favorite origin would be Ethiopia, brewed in a V60. Roasters usually reach us via our website or social media or by contacting our offices directly using the contact information on our website. Some roasters also reach out through our partners at origin.