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Ethiopia 2013

Ethiopia: After the Harvest

(except, full story available here)

As one of the more competitive coffee origins in the world, most purchasing in Ethiopia is done before the first cherries are picked. Buyers get in line come October, for first-ships in January. But, if you go to Ethiopia in May, it’s quite a different place. Coffee trees have already flowered, nodded, and have developed green beans. Washing stations are dormant. The dry mills are still humming, although maybe not at the pace they were in January….and surprisingly, there’s still coffee available. There’s a common misconception about purchasing coffee in Ethiopia that all coffee must come from the ECX. There’s a more complete picture to paint. Although still an oversimplification, coffees will either come from an Exporter that purchases from the ECX, the Coop Unions, or from a private landowner (usually a wealthy Ethiopian, who has a farm and washing station and has set up an out-growers scheme to purchase cherry from his surrounding smallholders).

If you’re looking for traceability, here are your options: 1. Private Exporters: Before the nationalization of the coffee sector in Ethiopia, private exporters had established an infrastructure of collection centers, and washing stations across the coffee growing regions of the country. A part of that infrastructure was made up of middle-men, but now it is illegal to both buy from and sell to the ECX. The many exporters that had been doing exactly that suddenly found themselves in a pickle. What do they do with the washing station they built? How do they still export the coffee that they are collecting and processing? For most, the answer was to establish separate companies. 2. Cooperative Unions: The rules that govern cooperative unions depend upon the person/people running the union. You can get traceable coffee, though it won’t be at ECX prices. Some unions work to help cooperatives improve quality, but it is not a guarantee. Buyers line up to grab to the good lots, and the Unions seems to understand that they can charge significant premiums for the service of keeping lots separate at the coop level. 3. Private Farms: Any landowner can get an export license and work directly with a purchaser; however, to do this the landowner must have excess money to float while the coffee is purchased, processed, graded by the EXC, negotiated with a private buyer, miller, and transported. Therefore, private farms are not the norm, but if done correctly, they can allow buyers to work more intimately with farmers.

The In-between

As coffee is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, clearly there are efforts to stimulate coffee exports, build farmer capacity, improve coffee quality, and increase coffee prices. A variety of Government and non-government organizations step in to fill these roles. Notably, Technoserve leads the charge in improving cooperative quality. However their work is focused in western Ethiopia, and tensions between Technoserve and the Oromia Coop Unions makes the purchasing process a bit cumbersome.

The In-between

As coffee is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, clearly there are efforts to stimulate coffee exports, build farmer capacity, improve coffee quality, and increase coffee prices. A variety of Government and non-government organizations step in to fill these roles. Notably, Technoserve leads the charge in improving cooperative quality. However their work is focused in western Ethiopia, and tensions between Technoserve and the Oromia Coop Unions makes the purchasing process a bit cumbersome.