Coffee Q&A with Dominic Ogut, Regional Agronomy Advisor
We spoke with TechnoServe’s Africa regional agronomy advisor to learn more about his background in coffee and how he became a certified Q grader – the highest possible certification in the coffee sector.
Dominic Ogut is the regional agronomy advisor for Africa and has worked at TechnoServe for over 10 years. Currently staffed on the Coffee Agronomy Training Program, Dominic is an accomplished trainer, farmer, and coffee specialist. He started with TechnoServe in 2008 as a business advisor and later served as a senior business advisor for agronomy before moving to his current position in 2016.
What is your background in coffee?
I’m an agronomist by training, so I learned about coffee theory during my education. I also worked in a coffee estate for three years before I started training smallholder farmers and cooperatives. Along the way, I became interested in coffee cupping, which is the process of analyzing coffee based on characteristics like aroma and taste. My current work focuses on training farmers to improve production quality and sustainability in all countries where we work.
What drew you to TechnoServe? How has your role evolved over the years?
I knew TechnoServe back in 2007 from their work with Kesfic, a producer startup they supported to aggregate peanuts from smallholder farmers in western Kenya. I thought their business approach to development worked really well, so I was on the lookout for opportunities to join the team.
When I started at TechnoServe in June 2008, I was in an entry-level role that focused on analyzing the profitability of wet mills and coffee cooperatives. I developed business plans and supported the financing and installation of wet mills – in addition to providing training on coffee processing, quality, governance, and sustainability. A few years later, I took on more responsibility as a senior business advisor and eventually became the regional agronomy advisor for all of Africa. Throughout the years, I’ve supported the development of coffee agronomy and quality processing curriculums for training smallholder farmers in Africa to produce high-quality coffee for the world to enjoy.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I think my favorite part of the job is being able to set up our Farm College program in new countries. Our proven approach provides farmers with intensive, field-based agronomy and business training using local trainers. It’s very gratifying to watch a program record real, tangible results. Through participation in the program, many of the coffee farmers we work with earn hundreds of dollars in supplemental income, which can be truly transformative. I enjoy meeting all of the farmers and I feel lucky when they share moving stories about how the training has impacted their lives.
We hear you’re a certified Q grader. Why did you decide to become certified, and what was that process like?
Yes, I’m a certified Q grader for arabica coffee. Q graders are people who are certified by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to grade and score arabica coffee based on standards developed by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). I first became interested in Q grading because I wanted to be able to identify unique, high-quality coffee that would otherwise go as low-grade commodity coffee. When farmers have access to good markets for their products, they can sell at higher prices and increase their incomes substantially.
The process for Q certification was very intense and demanding – it requires you to pass 22 different tests. However, when you eventually succeed, it is very gratifying. The tests involve many cuppings, which are split up into tasting (sensory) and smell (olfaction). You also have to grade green and roasted coffee beans against a set criteria and protocols developed by SCA and administered by CQI. The certification has to be renewed every three years by attending a seminar to get up-to-date.
When you’re not training farmers or cupping coffee, what do you like to do in your free time?
When I’m not working, I like to head out to the countryside to spend time with my family. I love to eat and prepare natural foods, especially sweet potatoes and milk!