Southland Merchants tales

Southland Merchants

Southland Merchants is making a difference for Brazilian farmers through its green bean trading policy by supporting an economically sustainable supply chain.

In 2009, Andre Selga and Nadia Moreira were running successful grocery and exporting businesses in their native Brazil. The pair had built a strong professional network and were exporting goods to Europe, the United States, and Africa.

Everything quickly changed when an old friend, who had a background in coffee, approached them about a new business opportunity to trade green beans.

“Over time, Nadia and I came to learn about the industry and like just about everyone, once we started dealing with coffee, we got hooked,” says Andre Selga, Owner of Southland Merchants.

In 2017, the couple and their young children emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia in search of a new challenge. After months of hard work and research on the Australian coffee market, Southland Merchants, a specialty coffee importer and distributor, was born.

“We want to connect coffee growers with coffee lovers. We love finding beautiful coffees and learning the stories behind them,” Andre says.

“When we moved, we were amazed at how sophisticated the Australian market was. People here are open to trying new flavours and varieties.

Brazilian coffee was traditionally used for blends, but as farming techniques developed over time and farmers made a diligent and firm decision to step up their game, Brazil’s specialty coffee has improved.”

At first, Andre says, he and Nadia were impressed with the Australian coffee industry’s focus on environmental sustainability, but the pair decided they could add value elsewhere.

“The farmers in Brazil love nature, it’s where they live. They don’t tend to ruin the beauty around them. Brazil also has really strict legislation on preserving forests in farming areas. This realisation led us to channel our resources into creating an economically sustainable supply chain,” Andre says.

“We want to connect with farmers on an intimate level to get involved in their day-to-day activities and challenges. This way we can work with them to ensure they receive fair prices.”

According to Nadia, the key to creating economic fairness lies in transparency, education, and empowerment.

“We don’t want the farmers to hand over the coffee and move on. We want them to own it and stay involved in all aspects, including price negotiations. This is why we don’t purchase based on the C-market levels. We aim to organise prices that make sense to the farmers,” she says.

“We provide transparent feedback for every coffee sample we receive. The aim is for the farmer to be accountable. We want to push them to focus on improving quality and learning more skills. If a farmer is asking for a higher fee, we work with them to improve their quality to a point that justifies those fees.”

Nadia adds that it’s important to bridge the educational gap. In Brazil there are approximately 350,000 coffee farmers, 86 per cent of whom are small growers who often lack formal education.

“This goes beyond business. It’s our country and they are our people. We want farmers to thrive as people. We’re part of a massive industry and we can’t change it all, but we decided that every business relationship that we enter should be economically sustainable,” she says.

Despite social and economic issues affecting some farmers, Andre sees a bright future for the Brazilian specialty coffee industry.

“I see a lot of drive from Brazilian farmers trying new varietals. Farmers are bringing skills from wine production and applying it to coffee, things like fermentations and carbonic macerations. Some farmers are also having really good results with Geisha. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out,” he says.

“There are some really amazing things happening.”

This article appears in the February 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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