From the Birthplace of Coffee to your Cup

Martyn Herriott - Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Horn of African nation of Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. The brew that serves as an eye-opener to so many of us, is so intertwined in the fabric of everyday life here, that it constitutes the social lubricant and centre for many a gathering. Wherever you go, coffee is being served, and even grown. Wild coffee trees can be found growing here, and in many a home the plant serves an ornamental purpose: a proud testimony to the nation that brought the most sought after brew to the world.

But for the 700,000 or so small producers of coffee in Ethiopia, life is hard at the best of times. Coffee is a key revenue in Ethiopia – accounting for 10% of export earnings – but the industry can be undercapitilised and inefficient.

Fairtrade is one of the few systems in the world offering a fair price to coffee farmers no matter what happens on international markets. Through Fairtrade, smallholder famers sell their coffee through a certified Fairtrade cooperative at a minimum price (which isn’t dependent on fluctuations in the market).

One such a co-op is the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU) which unites 39 Fairtrade certified 1st grade organisations, or base groups, located throughout the mountains and valleys of the Sidama region in southern Ethiopia. Teamed with gentle climates, the low density crop has a distinctive award-winning character.

SCFCU is well known for its production of garden coffee. This means that coffee receives organic nutrients from household crops like maize and banana, and grows under a canopy of fruit trees. Some farmers also produce sugar cane and chat. 75% of household income comes from coffee.

Farmers deliver their coffee to the collection centre at their base group where about 60% of the coffee is washed and wet processed, the remainder is dried in the sun in a natural process. SCFCU cooperatives use a quality control system to ensure only the coffee fruit meets the international standards and have verified characteristics of the Sidama origin are allowed to be exported.

The coffee is then transported to the government warehouse in Addis Ababa for milling, grading and auction.At this central warehouse, batches of coffee may be pooled to fill shipping containers. This makes it much easier to sell. During this process, certified and non-certified coffee is keep separate and traceability is maintained. SCFCU also have a government license to sell directly to international buyers and bypass the auction stage. SCFCU pack and deliver their coffee to the port of Djibouti, ready for export.

Next time you sip on your finely brewed Fairtrade cuppa, spare a thought for the farmers and workers of the Sidama region. By buying Fairtrade, you’re investing in the future of their community by contributing to a premium that might build a school, purchase an ambulance or contribute to even greater quality of the end product.

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