Our Mission: Investing in the Future

Optimistic Coffee Farmers in Yemen

Creating Jobs in Yemen

We believe that coffee farming can create economic growth and help put extremism out of business.


Making the World Safer

Economic growth in Yemen encourages stability and security. Coffee is a foreign policy alternative to military intervention.



Anda (the owner)

I'm the guy that ships your coffee, answers your emails, writes this website, and solves all the problems.

Let me know what you need.

Email the owner, Anda.

I love hearing from you.

agreeney {at} almokha.com / (2O2) 643-6O25


Is International Development Broken?

(A letter from the owner)

‎‎

Friends! So excited to have you. Anda here, the owner. I'm the guy that packs your order, handwrites you a note, and keeps the coffee flowing.

You're probably here because you want to know about what we do. The short answer is we sell coffee, and we think that Yemen's coffee sector is a billion-dollar opportunity for Yemen's economy. Not only that, but we think that coffee is a foreign policy tool.

That's the short answer. The long answer is WAY more than that.

Let's start with an anecdote that can really illuminate who we are.

Something crazy happened about three years. A well-known coffee company that retails Yemeni coffee was sued in federal court for racketeering, shell companies, and more. It was an aggressive lawsuit, leveraging legal methods more typically aimed at mobsters. What's even more nutty, is this company had built their reputation on good deeds and helping farmers in Yemen. Yet shortly thereafter, one of their farming partners reached out to Al Mokha because that coffee cooperative felt undervalued and underpaid. They wanted a new partner. This is an extreme example, but I think it captures something very important: there are no guarantees and profit is a strong motivator.

Al Mokha is different: we're not looking for guarantees. We're actually doing the opposite of most companies. Hear me out. A typical social enterprise works with a handful of farmers and pays higher wages. The narrative is buy this product and help these farmers be better off. Essentially, a guarantee.

But much is flawed with this model. Take Yemeni coffee prices, for example. Yemeni farmers are among the highest paid in the world, earning 2X–7X more than coffee farmers elsewhere in the world (Yemeni farm gate prices $2.39–$8.50+). This sounds great, these record-breaking high wages that Al Mokha and others pay. But high wages are not inherently meaningful. What if the coffee is 2X–7X more difficult to produce?

Or from another angle, would you rather produce 250 lbs of coffee at $8/lb or 1000 lbs of coffee at $4/lb? The answer is obvious, and it is, it depends.

In buying Fairtrade coffee, we want a slam dunk, we want proof that our purchase is morally good.

In Nicaragua, coffee farmers selling Fairtrade coffee did earn more per pound. BUT, compared to their peers growing conventional coffee, the Fairtrade farmers were worse off. Prices were higher, but yields were MUCH LOWER. This meant they spent three months of the year eating just one meal a day.

That's starvation Fairtrade wages. It makes our job as moral consumers hard. What's the answer???

We need broader perspective. Without dwelling long, international development as practiced has been around about 50 years. Yet 50 years later and $1 trillion spent, we're still asking a fundamental question: Does foreign aid work? The debate is lively, and since 2015 two Nobel Peace Prizes in Economics have been awarded on research in the field.

My point is not giving you the slam dunk answer—despite what social entrepreneurs try selling you, development is not something so simple as buy one/give one, or donate 10% of profits to charity. Rather, my point is this: any development intervention and social business model is EMBEDDED in a theory of international development. And that is key.

To understand Al Mokha (and our peers), you have to understand theories of international development. I'll make it quick. William Easterly of NYU (not yet a Nobel Prize winner!) is the intellectual foundation of Al Mokha (his book here).

His development model thinks about Planners vs Searchers. Planners see problems and come up with solutions. Farmers are underpaid—pay them more. Farmers dry coffee improperly—train them. You get the point.


Three formative economists (for our impact model)


Let's return to those farm gate coffee prices 2X–7X higher than the norm. They sound great. But why do farmers produce 2X wages when they could produce 7X wages? Well the answer is simple: context matters. Or take that farming cooperative that earned good wages yet nevertheless wanted to defect to Al Mokha because they mistrusted their current partner. Again, context matters. Or how about "incorrectly dried" coffee that tasted amazing, versus the newfangled "best-practices dried" coffee that tasted like compost effluent. You got it, context matters.

The answer to such "context matters" challenges is perhaps an inverse approach. Rather than Planners (and engineered solutions), how about Searchers, who are literally a product of their context. Locals are experts in local things.

Should farmers even grow coffee? There is an unchallenged assumption that this is a good job. When I did farming in Amherst, Massachusetts in the 1990's I earned $2/hour picking asparagus. Guess what, I got out of the farming business by age 12 because I could make better $$$ shoveling snow.

At the extreme, Al Mokha is NOT a coffee company. We know that Yemeni green coffee is 2X–7X more expensive. On a fundamental level, we must ask you—the coffee drinker—if the coffee justifies this higher price! If you feel bad for farmers in Yemen, you'll buy the product once. But if the coffee is amazing (as you probably already know!) you'll buy it again and again. But you the consumer are the arbiter of value and ultimately you give a business opportunity wings. That is how Al Mokha is different. We do coffee because it creates value. Neither Al Mokha nor the farmers are a charity case. If Al Mokha is doing things right, we should thank the farmers for giving us the opportunity to purchase their coffee. Are we lucky beneficiaries?

In this way, Al Mokha exists to find fundamentally solid business opportunities. Our coffee competitors are in the COFFEE business. But Al Mokha is in the DEVELOPMENT business. Our competitors are the World Bank and USAID.

When I said we're an international development startup, this means two things: first, we must be a better coffee company than everyone else. But that's just half the need. The other half is we must have durable, LARGE-SCALE impact. I'm talking macro-economic. Our goal is not paying 200 farmers higher wages per pound (that could leave them worse off!) That is fundamentally a Planner strategy. The point of Al Mokha is thinking much more broadly about opportunity. Success is NOT guaranteed, but how can one improve the lives of one million people and have a billion-dollar impact? What experiment is worth trying?

This goal is ridiculously ambitious, and it may sound especially pie-in-the-sky for a company as small as ours yet already seven years old. That's not the point. We're not in a rush to scale, but we are in a rush to hone operations and search for opportunity and impact. To be honest, the critic in me doesn't know if Yemen's coffee economy can scale 10X or 100X in size. If it can, great; if it cannot, also great. The coffee economy should be whatever size it is competitive at. Opportunity is not limited to the coffee economy.

There is one final goal and you're the center of it. People often ask what are the next steps for Al Mokha. My answer has been pretty much the same for the last five years: "get better at what I'm already doing, I'm not in any rush to expand. Selling more coffee is easy, building a great brand is really hard." This relates to you DIRECTLY. You better believe it, but I have poured my heart and soul into every single bag of coffee. My hope is you drink this coffee and it literally brings meaning to your life. I'm talking tingles in your fingers and toes you're so excited.

This has been long...I'm about to wrap up.

When I think about our embedded theory of development (Planners vs Searchers), I'm not asking you to become an expert economist—after all Noble Prize-winning economists are debating these thing. What I am asking is simple: try the coffee and if it creates value for you, buy it again.

That's about it. Al Mokha exists to get you the best possible coffee at the most competitive possible price. But we are far more than that. Al Mokha is an idea. It is an idea about what is flawed with development and an idea about how to do better.

My very best,

Anda (owner)

PS: You should sign up below for my once/month email.


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Advisory Board


Al Mokha is an international development startup. Coffee is our avenue of impact.

Read how Erin (our advisory board economist) thinks critically about our mission:


Former Team Members

Michel

Ashley

Edward

Sadie

Yasmin

Sowmyan

Dan

Phil

Amy

Catherine


A short history of the company

You made it to the bottom, great job!

A decade ago in 2010, I was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and was in the midst of SERE survival training. Like any good soldier-scholar, I kept my mind sharp and read about international development (Planners vs Searchers) during breaks in training.

A breakthrough moment was, hold on! Development can be a foreign policy tool just like boots on the ground.

I spent the next three years thinking about coffee from Yemen. Fast forward to 2013 and I wrote a substantive graduate school paper on the topic.

That research paper became Al Mokha.

The company was hot out of the gate and we placed top-ten in the Harvard President's Challenge. We've gone through a number of iterations since then. When I say international development is experimentation and failure, a startup is no different.

In the meantime, it's 2020, I'm still a student at Harvard Extension, and I'm now writing a Master's Thesis on Yemen's coffee. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was the scholarly context of Al Mokha.

If you need anything, let me know.

Cheers, Anda

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