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The Coffee Crusader

One man’s push to have Banadiria Coffee Roasters carve a spot for itself at the top spot of coffee business in East Africa

East Africa, blessed by its highlands is known globally for the farming and production of tea and coffee. Kenya is known for its tea and all three (Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia) are legendary coffee producers who have traditionally supplied the beverage across the world. Somalia, though not a major coffee grower in the region, is looking to join this club. One man, Ibrahim Ali Shiddo, the CEO of Banadiria Coffee Roasters has taken it upon himself to lead this charge.

The Somalia Investor Magazine spoke to him about the company, Somalia’s coffee culture, training of specialists, and the future of the industry.

What does your company do?

The company operates on two levels; we source for, process, and supply coffee to various coffee houses in the country, supermarkets, and to our international clients. We also run Banadiria Coffee Roasters Training where train professionals on how to effectively run coffee houses, offer consultancy services, and train young professionals on coffee-making-related skills like brewing and extracting coffee, frothing, texturing milk, etc.

The first level of your business; sourcing, processing, and supply of coffee, how does this work?

We have a team that oversees our coffee beans acquisition wing. This team has ties to coffee growers and sellers in Columbia, Brazil, the growers and auction markets in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and India. Its work is to purchase the very best of green coffee beans from these sources and transport them home.

Once the new consignment has arrived home, we roast it, process it, package it and then supply it to our various clients.

How long has your company been doing this?

Banadiria Coffee Roasters is a family-owned business. We have been in the business of coffee roasting since the 1970s.  Of course, processing and packaging are aspects of the business that we introduced not too long ago.

What are your main products?

We deal in traditional Somali coffee which is a mixture of coffee, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom. Also, we process normal coffee. You must have seen Safa and Javos, these are some of our products.

You say that your family has been in the coffee business since the 1970s. There is a period after 1990 when doing business in Somalia was almost impossible. How did your business survive this period?

Like most Somalis, we left the country in the 1990s. For example, I went to Sweden. My other siblings also went to other parts of the world. However, once we were out of Somalia, we realized that there was a large Somali community abroad. So we decided to supply our coffee to this diaspora Somali community. We sent Somali coffee to Canada, America, Europe, Australia, and other countries with significant Somali populations.

When did you return to the country and why?

I returned to the country in 2012 and re-established the business. The country was getting a bit more stable compared to the previous years and most of the Somali diaspora community had started returning home. I saw in this new period of political stability, an opportunity to re-engage the country and our people. Plus, I had noticed that the coffee business and coffee culture in the country presented a good business opportunity if only we could overcome a few challenges.

Do expound on this…

When returned to the country, the coffee industry was rebuilding. The entire ecosystem of the coffee industry had collapsed; there were no coffee specialists, few reasonable coffee houses, few people who knew how to professionally operate coffee-making machines and, we didn’t have proper local sources and brands of coffee. This is what I mean by a national coffee culture that had a few challenges.

So what did you do…?

Of course, first, we set up Banadiria Coffee Roasters and started sourcing for coffee, roasting it, processing, and packaging. We also cultivated new clients in and out of the country and began making distribution and supplies. Soon, other suppliers also got into the industry, so much that right now, we have about 26 different suppliers in the country. After this aspect of the industry stabilized, we engaged the training level of the business.

One of the Banadiria Coffee Products

With Banadiria Coffee Roasters Training we started training coffee barristers from across the country. We also do some consultancy work for various coffee houses, helping them run their businesses better, consulting on coffee shop set up, and advising on how to operate the equipment among other things.

Ibrahim Ali Shiddo, CEO, Banadiria Coffee Roasters

What has the training achieved so far?

Well, we started doing consultancy work and training informally at first, but from 2019, we have been official and have so far trained over 300 barristers to help plug the skills gap that we have in the industry. And while some of our students are from Saudi Arabia, over 70% are Somali youth. At the moment, there is a pool from which new entrepreneurs in the coffee business can draw. We welcome those who would like to set up in the country to give it a try because we have an enabling coffee business ecosystem.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business and how did you respond to the new reality?

Just like other businesses, we have been affected. The movement of goods, including coffee, has been difficult, and lockdowns meant that our team had to work fewer hours or fewer days in a week. We reduced staff and yes we feel the pinch but I believe that as the country reopens, we will be fine. Another challenge we had is that the cost of coffee has been high for the last 2 years or so, especially Kenyan coffee.

Why do you think this is so?

Most international coffee buyers come for the auction of Kenyan coffee. This has really pushed the price of Kenyan coffee. It is a situation that has been going on for a while, but it has been particularly severe during the pandemic.

So how large would you say your business is, and what are your dreams for the future, say the next 5-10 years?

We supply 70% of coffee shops in Somalia, and 90% of coffee shops in Mogadishu. We do this with a staff of about 50 people in and out of the country. Since we have restarted and stabilized the coffee culture in the country, the next step for the industry is to create coffee specialists like those in other countries. And, as the CEO of this business, I would like us to be a leader in East Africa.

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