By Prudence Minayo
Kenya produces unique coffee with a rich taste. Despite this fact, Kenyan farmers struggle to market their coffee and some cannot even afford to buy the coffee once it is processed. Margaret Nyamumbo started Kahawa 1893 with the aim of promoting Kenyan and East African coffee.
Her goal is also to help women who toil in coffee farms but still struggle to make ends meet. Her company, Kahawa 1893 was founded in 2017 and has grown into an international brand that sells coffee sourced from different places across East Africa. The company is named 1893 as an ode to the year coffee began to be grown in the forest of Ethiopia.
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Here is her story as told by WoK.
Nyamumbo grew up in her grandfather’s coffee farm in Kisii. Her earliest memories consist of helping her mother pick the berries. During the colonial period, Africans were not allowed to grow coffee. Nyamumbo’s grandfather was among the first native farmers in Kenya to be allowed to grow coffee.
When she got a scholarship to study in the United States, her family could not fully afford to send her there. Hence, the villagers came together and through a harambee managed to raise money to send her abroad. She arrived in the US with $200 and started both school and work.
After graduating from Harvard Business School with her MBA, she took up employment in the corporate world. She worked as a consultant at World Bank in Kenya and at Wall Street. When she was moving around New York in the weekend, she struggled to find Kenyan coffee in shops.
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The entrepreneur was surprised to find Kenyan coffee not represented yet farmers in the country struggle to find market for their coffee. The World Bank job also enabled her to understand the inner workings of the agribusiness sector. This imprinted in her the desire to assist women who grow coffee and reduce unfairness in the supply chain.
Kahawa 1893 has grown and today has annual sales of US$1 million. Their focus is not just to market coffee from Africa but to empower women working in the sector.
She realized that while women constituted 90% of the workforce in coffee farms, they hardly made enough. Hence, she started a company to help such women by ensuring they are richly rewarded for their efforts. In a past interview with an international daily, she said she wanted to put women in a position of power.
“Poverty leaves you in a state of not planning for tomorrow, you are constantly surging,” she said.
The company, therefore, donates a percentage of its profits to a women’s fund. They also allow customers to contribute by creating a system that allows them to directly tip farmers. Kahawa 1983 then matches the donations before they are distributed among women groups. The tips can be made by either cash or crypto currency.
For her, coffee is also a way of expressing her roots. She says there is nothing like the Kenyan coffee and through her company she tells its unique story.
“When it comes to the coffee industry, Kenyan coffee is the crown jewel. And, of course, there’s the history of coffee and how it was originally grown and developed in Africa — and migrated to South America — and how I wanted to pay homage to that history. Most important, though, I wanted people to experience the full beauty of Kenyan coffee — its uniqueness derived from the soil, which gives it its flavor, acidity, and sweetness,” she told Afro Tech.
In 2021, she made history when Kahawa 1893 became the first black-owned coffee brand to be stocked at Trader Joe’s in the United States. They also stock Kahawa 1893 at retail giant, Target.
The entrepreneur’s journey has not always been smooth sailing. At times, she would attend meetings and people would assume she is either a barrister or farmer. Others also told her to sell the company so that it can be marketed by other people
Luckily, she was able to connect with a mentor who had been in the business for more than two decades. He taught her a lot and helped to instil in her the confidence to succeed. She also borrowed from the connections she made at Harvard, Wall Street and World Bank
Recently, she was a featured entrepreneur on Shark Tank USA. She offered 5% stake in her company for $350,000. She received offers from four of the five sharks. After a lot of back and forth, she accepted an offer from Emma Grede for $350,000 for 8% stake in her company.
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