Kenya’s coffee sector in the COVID-19 context: can producer agency be sustained?


This webinar on 19 May 2020 discussed an experience of promoting the agency of coffee growers as well as youth and women entrepreneurship in Kenya’s coffee sector, the implications of COVID-19 and some possible pathways to sustaining the progress made to date.

Last updated 10 June 2020
Two women sit as they hand pick coffee beans at a desk

Women hand pick the coffee that is exported by Vava Coffee Ltd (Photo: Vava Angwenyi)

An initiative led by IIED is generating lessons on how rural producers, their associations and wider communities can best empower themselves to articulate their development priorities, make informed choices, and negotiate effectively for equitable partnerships with progressive private sector actors in commercial agriculture.

This webinar, part of the 'Empowering Producers In Commercial agriculture’ (EPIC) project, shared and debated experiences around a social enterprise that has been seeking to cause positive social and economic disruption within the coffee industry.

Its focus has been creating sustainable livelihoods for more smallholder farmers. At the core is promoting women and youth access to and agency within the coffee supply chain.

Vava Coffee began operations in 2009 and has a decade of rich experience of tackling barriers to an inclusive, fair and sustainable coffee sector. Vava Coffee is now facing unprecedented conundrums from COVID-19 as cancelled buyer contracts and reduction in order volumes raise questions over the resilience of ethical supply chains, SMEs and social enterprises in global agriculture value chains.

The webinar discussed what these changes mean for producers and debate strategies going forwards to sustain the progress in coffee producer agency made to date with a sharp focus on the work on women and youth.

Event coverage

A full report from the webinar, written by IIED's Thierry Berger and Enily Polack summed up the presentations and discussions that took place, while a recording of the event is available below and on IIED's YouTube channel.

The presentation given by Vava Angwenyi’s presentation is available on IIED's SlideShare site.


  • Vava Angwenyi, Vava Coffee
  • Brian Marare, young beneficiary of Vava Coffee’s mentorship and current intern farm manager at Vava Coffee, Kenya
  • Holly Kragiopolous, North Star Coffee Roasters, UK; a Vava Coffee buyer

An introduction to the webinar and the topic with perspectives from the panellists was followed by a facilitated discussion among webinar participants. The panellists considered questions of interest to practitioners working on similar issues in different contexts such as:

  • How have women coffee farmers and youth entrepreneurs been successfully supported in their relationships with other value chain actors to secure more agency in the sector?
  • What conditions are needed to be in place for this work to be effective? What challenges remain?
  • What are the main implications of COVID-19 and government response measures to date for producer agency and the value chains they connect to?
  • In this rapidly changing context, how do social enterprises keep supporting their beneficiaries, in particular women and youth, to sustain progress made prior to COVID-19?
  • What challenges are foreseen in the coming period and how might we tackle them collectively as a global community?

About the speakers

Vava Angwenyi is the creator of Vava Coffee, a social enterprise that trades, roasts and consults on coffee value chains. Its main aim is to contribute to better future prospects for coffee communities and the industry as a whole.

Vava holds a Masters degree in international finance and management from the University of Groningen as well as certificate in global asset management from Warrington College of Business, UF, and a BSC in statistics and actuarial science from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Vava Coffee has been recognised over the years for its grassroots initiatives and contribution to smallholder farming communities and youth in agriculture.  

Brian Marare is a young Kenya farmer and current farm manager intern at Vava Coffee. Brian is currently heading the Kisaju-Kipeto organic food project.

Holly Kragiopoulos is owner and director of North Star Coffee Roasters. Holly co-founded North Star in 2013. She manages producer relationships and regularly travels as part of the Cup of Excellence jury – a group of experienced and licensed coffee tasters responsible for judging in country competitions to select lots that will be entered into an international auction often fetching record prices.

North Star is an award winning coffee roastery, academy and coffee shop based in Leeds, in the north of the UK. It is a business focused on quality and ethics showcasing some of the greatest specialty grade coffees from around the world and investing in communities across the coffee lands.

This was the fifth in a series of events organised under the IIED-led EPIC project. EPIC is funded by UK aid from the UK government (DFID) through its Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) programme.

This was an IIED ‘legal tools’ webinar. 'Legal tools for citizen empowerment' is an IIED-led collaborative initiative to help local communities protect their rights in relation to natural resource investments.


About the webinar: Thierry Berger ([email protected])

About EPIC: Emily Polack ([email protected])

About IIED's legal tools work: Lorenzo Cotula ([email protected]), team leader, legal tools; principal researcher, IIED's Natural Resources research group