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Logistical challenges affecting the East African coffee trade

Although a relatively high-yield region in terms of coffee production, certain parts of East Africa can be plagued by challenges when it comes to the logistics of transporting beans, both within the location itself and overseas.

What are the logistical challenges facing East Africa?

There are a number of logistical problems affecting the region, including a prevalence of delayed shipping orders, under-investment in the location's ports and frequent power shortages.

In addition, poor transport infrastructure and farmers who are not especially business-minded can also affect the logistics of the region's coffee trade.

Helen Shewan, one of DR Wakefield's logistics controllers, visited Ethiopia in early 2014. She highlighted how it takes around two weeks for coffee cherries to be picked and washed, with another week being required for shipping approval. 

It then takes seven further days to gain an export permit and several more for the journey to the port, where beans are then typically waiting for two days. 

Then, it's finally time for shipping, which can take between 28 and 30 days, while it takes an extra seven for them to be ready at the UK warehouse. 

This means the entire process takes between 69 and 71 days.

Delayed orders

Certain East African countries are more developed than others, with significant contrasts between operations in Kenya and those in Ethiopia, for instance.

DR Wakefield traders Will Hobby and Phil Searle explained: "In Kenya, if you want a container to be shipped out in a certain month, it's pretty much going to be shipped out in that month. However, in Ethiopia there can be a two or three-month delay and you might not get any response on an email asking why it's so late."

In a bid to resolve such issues and to maintain a strong relationship with East Africa, representatives from DR Wakefield try to visit the region each year.

Such delays are usually the result of a variety of factors, which we will look at in more detail here.

Power problems

Due to a lack of technology and resources in the area, power cuts can go unresolved for long periods of time, meaning coffee-processing machines cannot be used and vehicles may not be able to be operated for transporting beans from place to place, presenting significant logistical and order-processing problems.

Business communication issues

Many coffee farmers in East Africa are not growing the beans because of a passion for growing coffee, but rather due to the fact they have inherited fertile land and this is simply one of the crops that can produce a good yield for them. 

This means they are not particularly business-minded, which can lead to communication issues, such as emails enquiring about delayed orders being ignored, presenting further logistical problems.

Under-investment in transport infrastructure 

Roads are often poorly structured in the region, with Helen pointing out that during her trip to Ethiopia, one journey was akin to spending time on a vibrating power plate exercise machine.

It is not just the roads that are not in a good condition, but also its ports. These experience significant levels of congestion despite a 24/7 operation policy being introduced in recent years. Again, this can lead to orders being delayed.

Why does DR Wakefield continue to source from the region?

Although there may be logistical problems within the East African coffee trade, it is not the only region to be affected by such issues. 

We at DR Wakefield find it makes it easier to communicate any problems we may have with trading with countries if we have personally spent time getting to know the people providing us with the beans.

Our company cares a great deal for the wellbeing of those who grow the coffee we eventually buy, so supporting their living by continuing to purchase coffee from them is something we place a high importance on.

And above all, East African coffee is so unique and exemplary in taste, meaning it is highly coveted by our roasters and blenders – as long as it's in demand, we will continue to source it.