Until several years ago, the experience of Tanzania’s Kanyovu farming collective was typical of most developing world coffee growers. They took samples of their harvests to a regional buyer, who offered the farmers a price after tasting and grading their beans. If the coffee’s quality was poor—as often was claimed—the farmers had no way of knowing why, or even if that was true. Buyers didn’t need to explain. Nor did farmers know what price their beans fetched from larger buyers or coffee...

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