Gorilla Conservation Coffee - how a Holyport start-up is saving gorillas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 July 2020
Coffee brings people together, as Sarah Rodi found out when she spoke to Moneyrow Beans founder Vicky Weddell and Ugandan vet Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka.
“It was while I was living in Dubai that I really got into my coffee, working at Raw Coffee Company,” says Vicky Weddell. “So when we moved back to Holyport last summer, I decided to start a coffee business from my garden shed in Moneyrow Green.
“I began roasting small batches of coffee and serving fresh coffee at local events. I am a member of the Speciality Coffee Association and play an active role in coffee competitions as an organiser and a judge. I want to bring people together through coffee – from the farming communities to the drinkers.”
And one way Vicky is doing this is through becoming the first UK Distributor for Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a social enterprise that supports coffee farmers in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda as part of the Conservation Through Public Health programme.
So how did it all come about? Vicky met Melanie Perry from Poppy Perry Media a little over a year ago at the Business Girls Network in Maidenhead, where she was showcasing her love and knowledge of coffee.
Despite not being a coffee drinker, Melanie and Vicky hit it off and Melanie had to concede that Vicky did indeed make a fantastic cup of coffee!
Fast forward a few months to the Media Hub in Cookham in November 2019, when Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, who was the first Wildlife Veterinary Officer of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, gave a fascinating talk on her work, Conservation Through Public Health, a non-profit award-winning NGO, and the plight of mountain gorillas.
She also showcased ‘Gorilla Conservation Coffee’ – premium Ugandan coffee with the aim of ‘saving gorillas one sip at a time’.
“Gorilla Conservation Coffee was launched after I visited farmers living adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas,” says Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka. “Here I learned that the farmers were not being given a fair price for their coffee and were struggling to survive, forcing them to use the national park to meet their basic family needs for food, wood and other resources for survival.”
So Dr Gladys decided to help. Gorilla Conservation Coffee buys coffee at a premium price of $0.50 per kilo above the market price from 500 coffee farmers living next to Bwindi and supports them through training in sustainable coffee farming and processing. This helps to improve the coffee quality and increase production yield.
Gorilla Conservation Coffee further helps farmers by processing the coffee, roasting it, packing it and selling it in more than 60 outlets around the world. Supporting local farmers helps to protect the endangered mountain gorillas and their fragile habitat.
But it was yet to be sold in the UK... Back at the Media Hub, Melanie got into conversation with Dr Gladys’ husband, Lawrence Zikusoka, also a co-founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee, who said they were investigating ways to bring Gorilla Conservation Coffee to the UK. Naturally, Melanie thought of Vicky and her passion for coffee so took a sample bag of coffee beans to give to her.
Vicky loved the coffee and the principle of Gorilla Conservation Coffee and so Melanie introduced Vicky and Dr Gladys – and the rest, as they say, is history!
“We are very excited about getting our first distributor in the UK. Our dream came true when Vicky accepted our request to become a distributor for Gorilla Conservation Coffee through her company Moneyrow Beans,” says Dr Gladys.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the suspension of primate tourism by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to protect the gorillas and chimpanzees primarily from potential risk of getting the virus from people. Due to this, the majority of people living around primate habitats have lost their stable sources of income ranging from porters, tour guides, hotel staff and many others.
“For survival, people may be tempted to poach or deplete nature through deforestation,” says Dr Gladys. “This could threaten the comfortable homes of primates to destruction. But in the absence of gorilla tourism, now farmers can still get income from the sale of their coffee as we are able to ship the coffee to the UK using cargo planes.”
So what can people do to help further? I want to know.
“People can help by buying a bag of coffee,” says Dr Gladys. “From every bag sold/bought comes a donation to support Conservation Through Public Health’s community health, gorilla health and conservation education programmes.”
Back in Berkshire, Vicky has been busy supplying and delivering her freshly roasted beans to local homes and businesses over the past few months, which has gone down especially well during the recent lockdown.
“I’m so pleased to be able to give Gorilla Conservation Coffee an established way of reaching the market in the UK. I love the fact we’re a locally based business with international links and one of my goals is to be able to visit the gorillas in Uganda,” she says.
“Meanwhile, I’m appreciating living back in Berkshire. I’m loving the greenery and that I can walk out from my front door. And I’m enjoying sharing my love of coffee with the community. I love great coffee, but I love that great things can come from it too.”
For more information, please visit gccoffee.org;
Dr Gladys is writing a memoir about her 30 years of experience working with gorillas and other wildlife. “It is something I have always wanted to do,” she says. “I was thrilled to meet Naz Ahsun, who became my literary agent after she listened to the talk I gave at the Media Hub in Cookham. I was also excited to get some financial support towards writing the book from one of our donors, Population Connection in the US.”