In the hills of the Sidama region of Ethiopia
In the hills of the Sidama region of Ethiopia, you will find Bogale Turkey’s farm, Banko Calcale. At 13-hectares (the equivalent of 13 rugby fields) Bogale’s farm is considerably larger than the average 1-hectare farm in Gedeb. This is a big factor in why we are able to share a single producer lot like Bogale Turkey’s. Ethiopia is widely accepted as the birthplace of Arabica coffee, so unlike other origins, the coffee plant is a native species. As such, there are 4 main types of coffee production in Ethiopia.
- Forest Coffee – harvested wild growing coffee
- Semi-forest Coffee – grown in the forest with intervention from farmers i.e. planting selective varietals, thinning of canopies, removal of underbush.
- Estate Coffee – medium to large farms, 100+ hectares.
- Garden Coffee – this provides an estimated 50% of Ethiopia’s coffee production. On a typical 1-hectare plot, a smallholder farmer will have a few hundred native coffee trees interplanted amongst food crops such as corn, grains, and bananas.
Bogale’s farm, which is planted with three native coffee species – Welisho, Dega, and Kudhumi, as well two species developed by the Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC) falls into the latter category.
Coffee Purchasing in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has some of the most ideal conditions for specialty coffee production – high altitude, fertile soils, and coffee growing expertise that has been passed down through generations of coffee farmers. But earning an income from coffee farming was, and continues to be not easy. Lack of pricing transparency, unreliable transportation, and no formalised payment timeframes, meant as a coffee producer in Ethiopia, selling your coffee to a middle man for a fraction of the commodity price or transporting your coffee to the capital Addis Ababa for auction and waiting months to receive payment.
In 2008, in an effort to connect the nearly 20 million Ethiopian smallholder farms with the global market, and improve the livelihood of the mostly agricultural population, the ECX (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange) was established. This was revolutionary for Ethiopian coffee farmers, introducing a “price flooring” scheme that prevented coffee prices decreasing beyond a minimum value, access to credit lines, transport from farms to Addis Ababa ECX warehouse and automatic payment for their coffee.
Specialty Coffee in Ethiopia
Now, the ECX was instrumental in forming the foundation of the Ethiopian coffee industry, but as the industry grew and evolved, the limitations of the scheme became more apparent.
Typically, after harvest, a farmer will deliver their coffee cherries to the local washing station, where the coffee is processed with other farmer’s harvests from the day. The coffee is then transported to the ECX warehouse where it is graded and categorised according to cup profile and quality. Lots are then auctioned off to the highest bidder.
This system has, and continues to work for commodity grade, but as the specialty coffee industry developed, green buyers were left longing for more traceability and ongoing relationships with producers. Information available to purchasers was mostly limited to grade, processing and region (i.e. Guji, Sidamo, Yirgacheffe) with no ability to trace the coffee back to a washing station or producer.
Recognising the consumer demand for ethical supply chains and the quality assurance that stems from traceability, ECX partnered with IBM to roll out a barcode-based tracking system for coffee entering the exchange. The introduction of the system facilitated both access to origin information for a purchaser, and market insights for producers, but the dramatic change for Ethiopian specialty coffee came in 2018 with the relaxing of regulations requiring all coffee to be sold via the ECX. In an effort to further increase the amount of traceable coffee exported from Ethiopia, privately owned washing stations and producers are now able to bypass the trading platform and sell their coffee directly. An additional benefit of direct sale is the access to higher purchase prices and independent negotiations, providing a coffee producer incentive to increase quality and reinvest in their farm.
Though there have been developments within the Ethiopian coffee industry, direct purchasing is in its infancy and it still remains the most challenging origin for buyers to navigate.
Bogale is a member of the La Lalissa Project, which is a program that provides participants with access to training and resources, for both coffee production and financial management. In Amharic, the word ‘lalissa’ means to grow or flourish, and through improved infrastructure and farming practices, the project aims to create a strong and independent supply chain, unreliant on external intervention.
Purchased externally from the ECX, a single producer lot like Bogale Turkey’s is a delicious example of what the future holds for Ethiopian coffee.