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Exilior Coffee: A B Corp Improving Livelihoods for Kenyan Coffee Farmers

Mar 12, 2024

Francis Kungu holds a bag of Exilior Coffee

Francis Kungu and his wife Maya Benham co-founded Exilior Coffee – an Oregon-based certified B Corp – to prove that there is a more ethical and sustainable way to grow and sell coffee. Kenyan coffee farmers have faced economic and environmental challenges for decades, but through new farming and business practices, Exilior Coffee is restoring small Kenyan coffee farms.

Kenya’s looming coffee crisis

Due to segmentation within the industry, Kenyan farmers struggle to make a living. Within the mass-production coffee industry, the beans pass through many hands: farmer, exporter, importer, broker, roaster, coffee shop, and finally to the consumer. “For every segmentation, there is a loss of revenue,” says Francis, “and the person who holds the lowest hanging fruit is the farmer. It’s a poverty trap.” He says that many Kenyan farmers don’t want to grow it anymore, a vast difference from the whopping 70% of Kenyans who once depended on coffee for their livelihoods.

Charles, a coffee farmer, harvests coffee beans from his coffee plants
Charles, a Kenyan coffee farmer, harvests coffee beans.
A hand holding unroasted coffee beans
Unroasted coffee beans from an Exilior Coffee farm in Kenya.

“The climate is also affecting it, so they are being beaten from two sides,” explains Francis. Rising global temperatures, droughts, and soil degradation contribute to a difficult growing environment. Due to these challenges, Francis says that Kenyan coffee is projected to be wiped out by 2028.

An immigrant from Kenya himself, Francis is seeing this play out first-hand with his coffee-growing friends who are now facing economic disparities themselves. “I want to do my part to fix this,” says Francis.

A new way to grow and sell coffee

Francis began importing coffee from local Kenyan farms to his small production facility in Dundee, Oregon. “We started with nothing,” he explains, saying he had to teach himself how to import and roast coffee.

Francis designed Exilior Coffee to have a vertically integrated supply chain, ensuring that the coffee beans go straight from the farmer to Exilior Coffee, allowing him to pay the farmers a premium price for their products. “We made sure that we aren’t impoverishing people to become successful ourselves,” says Francis.

Francis Kungu talks with a coffee farmer in Kenya
Francis talks with a coffee farmer.
Francis Kungu testing different varieties of coffee
Francis tests various coffees during a visit to Kenya.

He also provides mentorship to the farmers by teaching them regenerative agriculture practices that reverse climate change and restore degraded soil. In addition to growing coffee plants, the farmers also grow macadamia trees which remove the need for synthetic fertilizers and provide must-needed shade for the coffee plants. Some farmers also grow other types of beans, to naturally give the soil more nitrogen, and some keep bees to improve crop yields through pollination.

These eco-friendly growing methods not only support the planet, but also provide farmers with more economic stability. The farmers Francis works with are seeing improvements in their crops and, beyond coffee, can sell their honey and macadamia nuts. Charles, one of the farmers that Francis works with, now produces more coffee than Francis can sell.

Close up of ripe coffee beans on a coffee plant
Ripe coffee beans on Charles's farm.
Coffee farmers harvesting coffee beans
Charles, a Kenyan coffee farmer, harvests coffee beans on his farm.

Derek, Francis’s cousin, originally planned to build a gas station on his plot of land but instead decided to grow coffee after talking with Francis about regenerative farming methods. Today, Derek’s land is brimming with thriving coffee plants.

Derek, a coffee farmer, next to a coffee plant
Derek, Francis’s cousin, on his coffee farm.

Becoming a certified B Corp

To help maintain a growth-mindset for his business, Francis decided to have Exilior Coffee become a certified B Corp. According to B Lab, “B Corp Certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency.” By joining the B Corp movement and connecting with other B Corp business owners, Francis has been able to continue learning how to be an impactful business owner.

Today, Francis sells his farmers’ coffee and macadamia nuts at local grocery stores, farmers markets, and on the Exilior Coffee website.

Four bags of Exilior Coffee on a counter
Exilior Coffee products.

Finding a B Corp bank

“I’ve always banked in community banks,” explains Francis. “I’ve never been a fan of big banks.” He learned about Beneficial State Bank when he joined the B Corp movement and decided it was the right bank for Exilior Coffee.

[Beneficial State Bank] shares the same values. I’m trying really hard to find solutions for the environment [and] poverty eradication. Those are things that are very dear to my heart.

Francis Kungu, Co-founder of Exilior Coffee

After learning that he could transfer funds internationally to pay his farmers, Francis moved his business account to Beneficial State Bank.

"From the moment we connected over our shared B Corp certification, it was immediately evident how special and different Exilior was and the importance of what Francis and Maya have built,” says Craig Hill, Francis’s relationship banker at Beneficial State Bank. “Knowing their business needs and international sourcing from the start meant we were able to set Francis and Maya up with tools to help make their day-to-day banking a convenience rather than a process, all while sharing a deep resonance of shared values and commitments to support our planet and uplift communities."

Francis Kungu and Maya Benham selling coffee at the Portland Farmers Market
Francis and his wife, Maya, selling Exilior Coffee at the Portland Farmers Market.

Sharing stories to spread awareness

Francis plans to keep spreading awareness about the challenges that Kenyan coffee farmers face, as well as their resilience. “We never get to that human being,” says Francis, explaining the disconnection between farmers and consumers. “This is a human being – someone who is producing this coffee – and there are some challenges that they go through like overcoming global markets. And they have been resilient.”

Visit the Exilior Coffee website to shop and learn more about the business.

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