Bean There, Grind That

The Inspiring story of how a serial entrepreneur optimised her coffee trade under the AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative

An all-woman ensemble holds the fort at the Hingakawa Women’s Coffee Association in Rushashi, Rwanda, where Briggette Harrington‘s enterprise the Igire Coffee Company buys specialty grade coffee. The entire value chain is run by women, from planting the coffee trees, tending the coffee, harvesting it, transporting it to the washing station, sorting it, and packaging it in green form.

The Igire Coffee Company which Briggette launched in May 2022 adds value to the coffee by roasting it, grinding it, packaging it in consumer size units before exporting it through a women owned freight forwarder. In October 2022, less than a year of being operational, the company became the first to ship their products from Rwanda to Ghana under the AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative (GTI).

Heeding the GTI call

Briggette, who is of Ghanaian-American heritage, had always had her foot in the continent, having lived in Ghana for ten years and carrying out business transactions between different African countries for the past 30 years. Five of them in Rwanda and prior to that in Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast. With this background she began to look into how to ship under the AfCFTA and was referred to Antoine Kajangwe, the Director General for the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Rwanda.

“I simply just wanted to be able to export under the African Continental Free Trade Area. So, he explained to me that there was a Guided Trade Initiative. He asked whether or not I would be able to export coffee by the deadline which was October 7 and I told them that I was absolutely certain I could export before then. He put me in touch with some of his staff at the Ministry of Trade and then I started working with them and they said, Are you ready? ” I said, yes.”

Securing the paperwork

After assuring the Ministry of Trade that she was ready to export, Briggette needed to put her ducks in a row and secure the necessary paperwork. However, the process was rather cumbersome.

“I was told that I needed to get our paperwork from the National Agricultural Export Board. So, we filed for that paperwork online which is the first certificate of origin and the certificate of quality. In filing for that, I also had to submit with it half a kilo of green coffee so that they can test it and make sure that the quality was as it should be for that grade of coffee. Once that was done, I waited for authorisation from them to pick up the certificate of origin and to pick up the certificate of quality. After I received those two documents, I had to make an application with an organisation called Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) and they issued the phytosanitary certificate. So at that point, I had the first certificate of origin, the certificate of quality, the phytosanitary certificate, and then I learned that the paperwork went over to my freight forwarder, who then had to go to Rwanda Revenue Authority to obtain the certificate of origin under the AFCFTA letterhead.”

Priced to win

The process of exporting coffee to Ghana attracted a 10% reduction on duty, allowing the Igire Coffee company to offer competitive pricing for their product.

“It makes us competitive because it means that the landed cost of the product is less than it would have been. Until people have had experience with your product, know what your product is, know the quality of the product, what is going to entice them to buy is the price.”

Zoning in on the GTI for Women, Youth, Small to Medium Enterprises

Briggette views the AfCFTA GTI as an opportunity for women owned businesses, youth owned businesses, and SMEs as a whole to capitalize on new markets but herein lies a problem in itself, in terms of gaining access to said markets in other African countries.

“9 times out of 10, they are not going to be able to ship a container load of their product to anybody. That’s just economies of scale talking. So, you look at the situation and you say to yourself, well, if you can’t ship a container load that means the off takers, which might be the supermarkets, are not necessarily going to want to buy from you because the thing that they’re going to be concerned with is number one, whether or not you’re going to be able to ship and to maintain the quantities that they need on a regular basis. Because if you just ship once and then you can’t ship again, then you know, you’re dead in the water. Nobody’s ever going to take you seriously.”

Tackling market access challenges

To address challenges around access to markets for women, youth and SMEs, Briggette and her colleagues have designed a system that allows for employing digital trade and shipping as a collective.

“You need to come together as a unit and be able to ship products to a particular location. In Ghana, for example, we’re disrupting the market. So we don’t ship to any of the supermarkets there. Rather, what we’re working on is shipping to our warehouse in Ghana. We’re going to have an online platform called Impomart, which is very, very similar to Amazon, which puts you in a place where you as a consumer can go online and purchase the product.”