Well known as the birth place of coffee, the love affair with coffee here is as old as the story of coffee itself. So ingrained is it within the rich and vibrant culture, that Ethiopia domestically consumes almost half of all it produces. Last year 3.7m bags were roasted and consumed locally (compared to Kenya’s 50k)
Ethiopia is a fascinating, and at times confusing coffee origin to master. It has a number of different growing regions with some more familiar than others. In principal, coffee is grown in 3 zones. To the East of Addis Ababa lies Harrar, to the south: Sidama region – where Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Guji come from and to the West –Jimma where Limu and Djimmah coffees originate.
The vast majority of coffee produced in Ethiopia (over 7.3m bags last year) is grown on small scale farms with only a small volume of government plantation and large farmers contributing to the overall figures. Coffee is so common to see that many households (garden farmers) can be seen with 10 or 20 trees in their back yard. Much of this coffee never makes it to market however, and is harvested for the home.
For those that do grow commercially, the route to export is an arduous one. Until recently, all coffees were obliged to pass through the trading system of the ECX (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange) where as far as we can see, no value addition occurs whatsoever. Here coffees are graded by independent quality control systems to categories the coffee and then sold at auction to the highest bidder. A system that on the surface seems fair and just and pays the producers the best price at the time (rather like the Nairobi and Moshi auctions do) but, loses all aspects of traceability and has been widely criticised from all corners of the world. This year – the rules change to enable direct exports to occur circumventing the ECX in its entirety. This will allow for much easier traceability of coffees and transparent pricing models. Bravo I say.
Ethiopia does have a problem. It has no money. USD reserves are at dangerously low levels. As coffee plays such an important and vital role in securing much needed foreign income for the nation, it is unfortunately subject to a greater level of scrutiny and Government ‘mis’ handling. Recent figures show Coffee provides over 40% of foreign exchange earnings. So important is it, that over 1 million farmers, help provide an income for 15% of the total population.
Driving throughout Ethiopia demonstrates just how prevalent coffee production is. Washing stations and raised drying beds dot the landscape in all directions. And boy does the coffee look good.
There is much to do in this fantastic coffee producing country – we could write tomes on our time there, the challenges the producers, exporters and all in the supply chain face. The mistakes the government keep on making with disastrous policy and the lack of education facing the producers (and even those educating) But the potential is enormous. The land is fertile and aplenty. The conditions for growing coffee are second to none – high altitude, fertile soils, good rains. With a little help, Ethiopia could be producing 15 to 20 million bags – no problem!
We welcome the day when Ethiopia, along with Uganda become a combined power house of coffee Exports to rival the likes of Colombia and Honduras.