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Established in the Belgian region of Flanders in 2001 as a coffee roaster, OR Coffee subsequently expanded, opening a training centre and three espresso bars, one in Ghent and two in Brussels. With the conviction that the best coffee beans come directly from farmers, the company decided to increase its international activity.
EU trade deals with countries in Central and South America, signed in 2012, made it easier for European firms to trade with countries in that region. By requiring exporters from those countries to meet EU standards on sustainable development criteria such as working conditions and environmental protection, the deals also benefited local people.
As a result of the trade deals, OR was able to build partnerships with farmers in countries such as Costa Rica. These partnerships entail the farmers taking on an active role in the coffee-making process rather than just supplying beans.
The company has similar arrangements in Brazil, Burundi and Rwanda. The EU's trade relationships with these countries are not as advanced as those with Central America, but it does have partnerships with them which have supported trade and development projects.
OR now buys 70% of its beans directly from farmers and is set to open a fourth espresso bar. Its next move concerns the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the soil provides coffee beans of the highest quality.
Congolese farmers often lack the knowledge to ensure that their coffee reaches its potential. This, paired with a difficult economic situation and political instability, makes developing coffee production a big challenge.
OR is trying to fill knowledge gaps among farmers and create stable partnerships in the country. The firm sees an eventual EU trade deal with the Congo as invaluable in enabling them to do business there and helping the Congolese to make the most of their coffee.