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Five minutes with: Karma Cola

We talk to the team from the Fairtrade drinks brand Karma Cola about how they’re doing good across the world 

The creators of Karma Cola: Chris Morrison, Simon Coley and Matt Morrison
The HIV theatre group from Boma has benefited from the Karma Cola Foundation
Simon trying a cola nut from Sierra Leone
Karma Cola growers in Sierra Leone with Karma Cola team member Albert (third from right). 
Cola nuts used to make Karma Cola
The Mannekan bridge built connecting two parts of the village of Boma

How did Karma Cola come about?

The world drinks one cola drink every minute. That’s a lot. But the farmers who grow cola never got anything for all that drinking. We thought it was about time we did something about that, so we made Karma Cola.We wanted to connect cola drinks with growers in a way that respected everyone and everything in between. We wanted to make drinks that not only looked good and tasted good but that were doing good too, giving back to growers in the developing world. 

Tell us a little about the growers of the cola seed in Boma, Sierra Leone. 

When we first started trading with Boma it soon became apparent that the communities needed more than an income stream from cola nut. After a ten-year civil war everything was broken, what was needed was infrastructure, rehabilitation of roads and plantations, bridges, schools, and safe drinking water. What the farmers told us they needed was a good, reliable and consistent price for their produce and some support to start their own development programmes. Then perhaps they could fix a few things and start to build a sustainable future. So that’s what we are endeavouring to do. Fairtrade didn’t exist in Sierra Leone so we had to create our own system through the Karma Cola Foundation. This won us a ‘Fairest Fairtrader in the world’ by Fairtrade International in 2014, out of 27,000 products.

What’s the special difference with the Karma Cola recipe compared to other cola drinks? 

Cola is intense and the trick to making a great tasting drink from it is mellowing the bitterness. So we add organic vanilla and roasted barley malt along with a blend of citrus oils and spice and finally cane sugar and fizzy water. We have no secrets with our recipes. We also have no need for preservatives, phosphoric acid, caramel colouring, or e-numbers. There’s nothing we can’t pronounce. Just 100%  natural ingredients. All the sugar is Fairtrade and organic – from India.

If I buy a bottle of Karma Cola, what would I be contributing towards? 

Every bottle sold anywhere in the world contributes to the Karma Cola Foundation. It distributes funds to the people of Boma and Tiwai communities in Sierra Leone, where cola’s grown. Every bottle sends five cents back and that soon adds up. Since bottling the first batch in 2012, over USD $60,000 has gone back. But we don’t tell the people of Boma what to do with the funds, the chiefs and village elders get together and decide what to do as they know what they need more than we do. So far, funds from the Karma Cola Foundation’s built a bridge connecting two parts of the village, sent 50 girls to school, installed a primary school teacher in a community run school; built a rice huller so they can get an income and supported an HIV/Aids theatre group because making a song and dance is the best way to well, make a song and dance about sensitive subjects. This year we’re building a guesthouse to generate more income, fix school furniture, and providing transport for cola farmers to trade outside their village. All the initiatives focus on independence rather than dependence.

The Karma Cola product range isn’t just limited to the cola drink – what other refreshments are available from you guys?

We also have Lemmy Lemonade and Gingerella Ginger Ale. The Fairtrade and organic ginger and vanilla for Gingerella comes from the Forest Garden Growers Association in the Kandy highlands of Sri Lanka. The cooperative of 130 small farmers grow a veritable feast of spices and fruit in this hot jungle environment. Lemmy and Gingerella both use sugar from the Suminter Organic Farmers Consortium in India. All of our Fairtrade farmers are paid a stable price for their crop and a percentage of sales of the end product is channelled back into community projects. Plus we have our sparkling range – All Good Flavour Bombs.

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