Photograph — Jiraygroup

Dung David Dayi is passionate about coffee. He is also passionate about Nigeria and wants to see the country recognised as a premium coffee producer, like Ethiopia. Although this seems a long shot, given the issues associated with Nigeria’s coffee sector, top of which is a lack of government support, Dayi is currently working to make his dream happen by improving the entire process of coffee production in Jos, Plateau state where his startup, Kim’s Coffee, is based. 

Dayi initially started out as a roaster, but when he couldn’t get quality coffee beans to roast, he knew he had to do more than just operate a roastery. Now, he manages a 20,000 coffee tree farm and serves as a consultant to farmers in his state, teaching them the best agronomic practices to increase and improve the quantity and quality of their coffee yield.

Who is Dung David Dayi?

I am a startup entrepreneur, a farmer, and food processor, with a background in mechanical engineering. I worked in a food processing company in Brazil for a while before returning to Nigeria to start Kim’s Coffee. But before Brazil, I co-founded my first company processing and packaging fonio, called Synfonio Foods. Fonio is one of the oldest grains in Africa and it’s a staple of my people, the Berom people.

Why coffee? 

Years ago, before I went to Brazil, a friend gifted me a small coffee tree which I planted. I nurtured and studied the plant, and I’d often roast the beans harvested from it and have my late father taste it. I started out as a roaster because I felt like there is a need for us, Nigerians, to give value to what God has given us.   

As a mechanical engineer, it is important for me to seek solutions. Having seen how the Brazilians work, it makes me sad that we have not, and are not doing enough with the abundant resources we have. We aren’t very creative and innovative with coffee. There were no roasters in Nigeria when I started out, no value added to Nigerian coffee. So I thought, “why don’t I do something with coffee?”

For a year, I learned to roast to better understand coffee; to develop a coffee palate, to know how to weigh coffee beans by putting them in your hands, to determine the flavour by the aroma. These are some of the things I learnt while roasting, and in some way, it helped me position my business how I want it to be.

I want Nigeria to be known as one of the producers of coffee. The first time I collected coffee from farmers, 90 percent of the crop wasn’t up to standard. The coffee most produced in Nigeria is robusta, which is a low-value coffee. But here in Jos, we grow the premium Arabica beans. 

Kim’s Coffee

You said when you started initially, the coffee you got from farmers wasn’t up to standard. How do you mean?

There’s something called agronomic practices. I’m a firm believer that whatever you do, you should be knowledgeable. I have been studying coffee for 10 years, before my official opening of Kim’s coffee in 2017. So I understand what it means to grow a coffee tree. A lot of people don’t, from what I’ve observed. 

In my experience, coffee production doesn’t just start from roasting but from the farm. How do you treat the tree to get the best from it? People often say they want to go into the business of coffee roasting. But the main work is not in the roasting, it is on the farm. How do you handle the farm and treat the trees? That’s where agronomic practices come in, and not a lot of people are knowledgeable in that aspect, hence they grow and harvest poor-quality coffee.

I’m curious, what informed the name of your business? Why is it called Kim’s Coffee?

Kim is my kid brother’s name but that’s not why I used it as a business name. In my language, Kim means eagle. Initially, I had two animals in my head while thinking of a business name; a bull or an eagle. I dreamt and saw an eagle, hence Kim’s Coffee. And I think the business is living up to its name; we are focused on our core mission and objective to produce the best quality coffee that’ll put Nigeria on the map.

Take me through the process of Kim’s coffee production?

We start on the farm. Matter of fact, we start from the day we plant the seed. The genetics of a seed is important. When we do our selections, we choose the best seeds to raise seedlings. In raising seedlings, we follow agronomic practices. 

And when it comes to roasting, we look at the moisture content; must be up to a certain percentage for the beans to be roasted. For now, we do medium and dark roasts because it’s a developing culture; people are moving away from instant coffee to brewed coffee. 

In terms of packaging, we ensure everything is eco friendly. 

If you are going to order coffee from Kims Coffee, you need to inform us days prior. We don’t preserve roasted coffee, conventional roasters do that, we don’t. We are focused on giving our customers an experience. 

Yesterday I got some beans and I saw that they were not good. I decided not to roast and sell them. If you provide quality, people will always look for you. That is something money cannot buy. That is part of the experience we are giving people. 

Right now I have a target of growing two million [coffee] trees. Remember I said I started with one tree, but I’m currently managing a twenty thousand-tree farm.

Is that yours? Or are you managing it for someone?

We already had a community of coffee farmers who were giving up on farming coffee, so we had to revive almost all of them. We bought the lands and coffee trees from some of them. One of our farms has been in existence since 1965. The original owner had it passed down to him from his father. The coffee tree is about 60 years old and we still get coffee from it. 

Initially, we started Kim’s Coffee as roasters, not farmers, but the system in the sector made us return to the drawing board. The whole system was messed up, so we had to bring coffee farmers together and work on price control to have a common price. 

The government came forward in 2018 and told farmers to resume coffee farming and told them a kilogramme of coffee was N6,000. If you are to buy coffee for that amount, how much do you think it would be sold on the international market as of 2018? It would be about $1 or $2. So it doesn’t make sense buying coffee for N6000. 

Women at work – Kim’s Coffee

You mentioned medium and dark roasts earlier, can you please expatiate on that and also talk about your sales?

In 2017 I invested N5000 and in six months I made about N700,000. People often say you must have huge capital before you run a business and I believe that is wrong. The capital is you, your belief, your intention. 2018 was also a good year in terms of sales; our coffee always sold out in no time. 

I do not attend trade fairs because if I do, Kim’s Coffee will sell out in an hour. The US embassy gets coffee from us, the Czech embassy too. We send coffee to South Korea, Thailand, Scotland. We sent to New Jersey last week. We have a recent order from Italy as well. So that’s how much we have grown. 

Some of the popular Nigerian cafe’s get their coffees from us. We have consistent customers from all over Nigeria, Lagos, Abuja, Maiduguri, Kano. Once, we hosted some EU observers here. They were in search of the best coffee and they were directed here. So the entire entourage came all the way from Abuja to buy our coffee.

Per roasting, we often do medium roasts and dark roasts. For a medium roast, arabica coffee contains 1.5 percent of caffeine. When you roast it for like 19 to 20 minutes, the caffeine level drops a little. When brewed, medium roast coffee gives a kick, but you don’t get the aroma. The dark roast gives you the aroma, but lesser caffeine. Those are some of the differences between these roasts.

When people want to order coffee, they tell us what roasts they prefer and that’s what we prepare for them. However, lately, more people are ordering lighter than medium roasts. 

What is the coffee industry like in Nigeria and how can it be better?

Most of the people we call roasters in Nigeria, do not know the basics of farming coffee. Things like the genetic composition of a coffee bean, the soil composition, the altitude… Things I’ve learned from managing coffee farms. These roasters will tell you that it’s not their field, not their place to know them. If we want to get coffee right in Nigeria, we all have to go back and think “how do we position this business/sector?” It starts with the farmer because if you don’t give the farmer his value, he will give you rubbish. Sometimes, farmers mix coffee beans with other kinds of beans to increase volume. Sometimes, they sell substandard coffee beans.

Currently, the position and positioning of coffee in Nigeria is not good. Everyone tells you they are coffee roasters or producers but what they really care about is the money. They don’t care about how the coffee is grown? They don’t care about the farmers? But if you don’t treat them right, they won’t give you the best. 

Today I was looking at the UK and US standard for exports. What is Nigeria’s standard? What colour and size should the beans be? Sadly, we don’t seem to care about these things. If the government understood the value of coffee they would not be toying with it. If they did, they’d be asking questions like, “What can we do for farmers, so that they can harvest coffee twice in a year?” Besides me, I don’t know of anyone that has harvested coffee twice in a year in this country. Coffee is often harvested once a year in Nigeria.

The government ought to ask farmers what their challenges are and provide solutions. I have been running my business for four years without a single grant or support from the government.

Have you applied for any?

I have. I have applied. I even did a CBN training and nothing came out of it. 

If we really want to get it right, it is not just about selling brewed coffee, we need to ask ourselves what contributions are we making in our own small spaces. Sometimes, farmers get tired of growing coffee and want to grow other crops. And because I don’t want them to cut the tree, I give them money for their needs in exchange for nurturing the tree. In Plateau state, a significant percent of our coffee farmers cut and burn their trees because there are no off-takers.

Since you’ve started talking about some of the issues associated with the industry, what else poses a problem to coffee production in Nigeria? What are other challenges you face? 

The first issue I’m going to mention is the government. They are not helping in any way. They are not supportive but they expect that you pay tax. There is no light; we often run on generators because even when there’s light, the voltage is not strong enough for my machines to work.

Insecurity plagues us. Once you start growing your coffee, cows led by Fulani herdsmen show up and start eating the leaves. Herdsmen have killed one of my security men and another staff member. They also burnt the place where we store our machines. It’s a big issue. 

Accessibility to farms is another problem. It’s currently raining and I can’t go to my farm because the roads are not good. We have to park our cars and motorcycles somewhere and walk about five kilometres to the farm because these vehicles cannot ply the road. That’s how bad the road is.

Also, some of the policies regarding start-ups in Nigeria are not encouraging. For me, I try not to pay attention to these issues, I often just find ways to work around them. But they can be quite demoralizing.

Farming coffee

That’s quite a number of challenges you are dealing with, what then keeps you going?

Understanding why I’m doing this in the first place. I want to leave a legacy. Growing quality coffee, providing jobs for people… I’m simply doing my bit. I’m very passionate about Nigeria, irrespective of the current situation of things. We may not have the best leaders, but I believe change starts from us. As individuals, how can we make Nigeria great again? Thankfully, we have different startups springing up in different sectors to produce locally made goods. This is what keeps me going.

What policies will create a better environment for your business?

First, the government needs to recognize the value and economic potential of coffee. After oil, it’s coffee. Every continent in the world consumes coffee. We have good soil to grow coffee, and different regional zones to grow different kinds of coffee. We need to pay attention to the crop and give the sector all the boost it needs.

Insecurity needs to be tackled. If I’m not at the farm, herdsmen will lead their cows to eat my coffee. 

Roads need to be fixed. Electricity as well.

What is your vision for Kim’s Coffee? 

My vision is to put a spotlight on Nigeria as a coffee-producing country. Currently, we have no place on the map of coffee-producing countries. So, I’d love to bring us to the limelight in that regard; when people think quality coffee, let them think of Kim’s Coffee, Nigeria.

If you had an opportunity to talk to Nigerian entrepreneurs who wade through similar challenges daily, what would you tell them?

A business is not just something you own, it is who you are. Do not despise the days of little beginnings. Do not focus on what you don’t have or whether or not you have enough resources or capital. I started my business with N5000 and closed with about N700,000 in the first year. I started with one tree, but I currently manage a 20,000 tree farm on 51 hectares of land. Some of the biggest brands in the world started really small; from garages, kitchens, stores… Do not be hell-bent on making it big, quickly. You’ll get it wrong. Be passionate about your business. Be creative and innovative with it. Always think of ways to make your business stand out. And stop looking to the government for help. You’ll be disappointed.

Dung David Dayi, Owner, Kim’s Coffee
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