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Field notes: Ethiopia 2023 - Fear and loathing at the BER check-in desk 

Updated: May 1

In February 2023, I went with our Head of Coffee, Anni, and a long-time colleague, Florian, to visit our partners in Ethiopia. It was Anni and Florian’s first trip to East Africa; for me, it had been since January 2020, with COVID and a brutal civil war in the Tigray region halting all travel for about two years. I was excited to go back. 

A jeep driving on a dirt road in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the motherland of coffee. While there is still debate over the exact origins of Coffea Arabica, genetic findings indicate that its birthplace is most likely the country’s cloudy highlands. It’s a huge country—as big as France, Germany, and the UK combined—and has the fastest-growing population in the world. The Ethiopian highlands, where coffee grows wild, are a unique geographical area believed to have formed around 75 million years ago. The elevation starts from 1500 m.a.s.l and reaches above 4000 meters.  

Since 2019, Populus has been working mainly with four producers from the Agaro and Kaffa regions. We also source washed coffee from Yirgacheffe and Sidamo, but visiting that area didn’t fit into our plans this time. Instead, we wanted to focus on sourcing coffee cultivated in the highland forest – a microclimate close to that of where Arabica coffee originated. We have valid reasons for this, which I hope this story will clarify.

Our journey in some ways began when we applied for our online visas. That same day, the Ethiopian immigration authorities decided to update the online platform, increasing the price of tourist visas. As a result, the entire service crashed for a few days. Anni eventually got her visa by email, whereas Florian and I only got confirmation letters for granted visas.

We needed to check whether this would be enough to travel, so we tried to contact the Ethiopian Embassy in Berlin. But they seemed to have permanently left the phone off the hook, so no one ever answered. So we visited their reception and were told that the confirmation letter would be enough to travel. We would get the official visa after arriving in Addis Ababa. Great.

So, it was with relative confidence that we proceeded to the check-in desk at Berlin Airport on the day of departure. Anni was first with her official visa and had no problems checking in her bags. Florian was next. The stone-faced clerk at the desk refused his check-in without batting an eye — no pleas or reassurances shifted this "heute leider nicht" attitude.

Panic started to creep in. We thought that maybe if we took the first leg of the flight to Istanbul, where we had a two-hour layover, we would be able to finish the journey. As Istanbul airport sees travelers from all over the world, we thought we would have a better chance of resolving the issue than we would have in continuing with the dysfunctional and impressively unfriendly Berlin airport. But after revealing our plan to the clerk, he refused to let us fly to Istanbul and took Florian off the flight. We told him we would stay in Istanbul, where we had valid tickets to fly to. No chance.

As I had only a carry-on bag, I tried to sneak out of the queue and check-in online, but the clerk spotted me and told me that if I were indeed Mr. Haavisto, there’d be no chance of making the flight. 

We decided to go for it anyway. Florian ditched his check-in bag, and we stuffed his belongings into tote bags and whatever else we could find. The only hope was that the online tickets would still get us through security. Miraculously, that worked, and we ran to our departure gate. There, we were again barred from boarding the plane, but our hunch was right—the Turkish Airline staff understood our distress. They unblocked our tickets, and off we went. 

In Istanbul, our visa issue (which, it turns out, many others flying to Addis also had) was already acknowledged by the airline staff. They had a WhatsApp chat going on with the border officials in Addis and were confirming visas through the chat. I got my confirmation quickly, but Florian didn’t. Time grew short. Anni and I said goodbyes to him as we had to board the flight. It felt bad to leave him stranded in Istanbul, but there was no other way. Two minutes before the plane doors closed, we saw him running for the plane. The staff had issued an unofficial – handwritten – boarding pass and let him board. While I suspected that the handwritten boarding pass would cause problems in the future, I kept that to myself so as not to ruin the moment of victory. Our long-planned trip was on. 

In Addis, we had to wait longer than usual to get our visas issued, but this was just a minor discomfort. We had arrived. After a few hours of sleep, we were again at the airport. This time, to catch a flight to Jimma. 

Jimma is the largest city in the southwestern Oromia region and a basecamp for exploring the surrounding coffee regions of Agaro, Limmu, and Kaffa. It’s also home to the International Institute of Coffee Research and the Jimma Institute of Agricultural Research (JARC). These academic institutions focus on improving practices of coffee cultivation at many different levels, including producer education, soil analyses, and research of wild and spontaneous varieties.

A man walking on a wooden bridge in an Ethiopian forest

On arrival, we met my old friend Shambe Kena, the field manager of the Belco field office in Ethiopia, and Meded Awol, an agronomist for the same company. Shambe has worked with coffee for over three decades and knows most of the producers in the area personally. There’s no one I would trust more than him to navigate the backcountry dirt roads, make meaningful introductions, or sort things out. It was the first time I’d met Meded, but we got along quickly. His knowledge of local flora, terroir, and farming practices proved valuable when discussing soil, shade, and plant health. 

After a night in Jimma, we were ready for the field. We jumped into our Toyota Land Cruiser, and Shambe drove us down to Agaro village, which lies at the base of the hills where some of our most important partners are located. The road was full of potholes, and we ate kilos of dust. On arrival, we found out that most of the village was without water and electricity because of road works – including our guesthouse. But this was a minor setback. Who needs modern comforts when you are in the land of coffee? 


As mentioned, our aim for the 2023 trip was to reconnect with the producers we had collaborated with since the 2019 season. I had returned from that trip only a week before the pandemic, and a deeply traumatizing civil war stopped travel for two years. The situation remains unstable; civil unrest and violence can escalate unexpectedly. On his way from Addis Ababa to Jimma, Shambe had been caught in gunfire while passing through a village where things had turned violent after recent protests. We were told stories of farmers not being able to visit their farms for fear of death because of tribal conflicts. These conflicts don’t have to have anything to do with war. Where people struggle with poverty and instability, anything can spark violence. 

A dirt road in the forest in Ethiopia

But there we were, driving through small villages and beautiful forests of the Agaro region, where people stared, smiled, waved, and yelled `farangi` at us (“foreigner” in Amharic) while going about their days. From an outsider’s perspective, nothing seemed different. But a lot had changed for the worse and some for the better. 

Populus works mostly with producers from the Agaro region for a few reasons. Most importantly, we prefer to work with independent producers over cooperatives. Talking with different people operating in the supply chain has made it quite clear that cooperatives are rife with corruption and bureaucracy at the executive level. This is a harsh thing to say, but we’re not the first to say it – money and power breed corruption, leaving smallholders often powerless to fight injustice. There are many strong, well-functioning cooperatives producing excellent coffee and creating value for the community. But their management and leadership are likely to change over time. 

Working with a single producer offers more transparency and enables a more constructive partnership. A roaster ends up interacting with the same person, who is deeply committed to the crop and in the best case works constantly to improve quality and yield. It’s possible to determine the value of coffee together and set up future goals. 

It’s sometimes difficult to maintain these long-distance relationships, especially when the producer is located in a remote region, and there’s a language barrier. Our strategy has been to make sure that we have somebody we trust working full-time at the origin who’s driven to facilitate the relationship and update both parties when that’s needed. I’m not claiming that Populus has the perfect way of executing “direct trade,” but we’re always working toward improving our practices.

We focus on working with forest coffee producers who cultivate land rich in flora and fauna. Maintaining the biodiversity of the farms builds a natural barrier against the spread of plant diseases, blocks excess UV radiation, naturally maintains soil health, and prevents erosion. All this extends the life spans of the plants. It’s not uncommon to see 100-year-old trees still yielding cherry. Layers of shade trees allow cherries to ripen slowly and prevent moisture from evaporating from the soil. Cherry ripening in cool and partially shaded microclimates has been scientifically proven to increase positive cup performance (Vaast et al. 2005 report). 

Producers like Nizamu Abamecha and Khalid Shifa farm their ancestral land and have a deep-rooted respect for biodiversity and tradition. These farms boast indigenous plants as well as coffee trees retrieved from forests and planted by past generations.   

This understanding and knowledge, combined with modern agricultural and coffee processing practices, has resulted in some of the best coffees we have ever tasted. Talking about positive progress, here we experienced plenty. 

Nizamu Abamecha

Nizamu is cultivating coffee above 1900 m.a.s.l on his ancestral land in Gomma. Both his farms are forest farms, offering three layers of shade to ensure protection for ripening coffee cherries from direct sunlight. Like most Ethiopian producers, he farms organically, applying only compost and pulp for his trees to boost soil mineral levels. He plants indigenous trees to improve shading and soil health further and is in the process of replanting and refurbishing his land, plot by plot. 

When we first met in January 2020, Nizamu had just gone independent. Before that, he’d been a co-founder and the long-time chairman of the famous Duromina cooperative – one of the model co-ops of the international nonprofit Tecnoserve that helped improve Ethiopian coffee cultivation practices in the 2000s. Being part of a co-op means you need to sell your coffee to it instead of selling it independently. As the government allowed vertically integrated trade, Nizamu decided to seek his fortune, taking control of the quality of his product and the land he had inherited.

When I was first introduced to him, he had just finished processing his first independent lot. His processing setup was simple, just a few raised drying beds to dry naturals. His ambition and motivation were clear, however, and we talked a lot about his plans and dreams. I ended up buying the first 20-ish bags that Belco kindly helped consolidate. He was able to open a market for himself with a roaster, giving us not only opportunity for great coffee but hope for a fruitful long-term relationship. 

Our reconnection was joyous. I learned that a lot had happened since our last encounter. Nizamu was now producing a container (over 20 tons) of first-grade coffee. He had also purchased a small pulper for honey processing. 

Both farms were well-kept and managed. His family was doing well and his brother had stepped in to work with him. Together they were aiming to increase production, build a washing station and get organic certification. 

I had heard some news of his progress and practices over the past two seasons, but it was still remarkable to see the developments first-hand.

Coffee producer and his family smiling

We sat for a long while and chatted, with Shambe and Meded interpreting. A generous goat lunch (a challenge for a vegetarian) with injera bread was served. After that, we held a coffee ceremony accompanied by bread and honey from his farm – a staple of any Ethiopian farm visit. Our bellies full, we then toured both of his farms. Meded shared advice on terracing the steepest parts of his farm to prevent erosion and mineral degradation. Nizamu explained how he was pruning the shade trees carefully to allow sunlight to access the ripening coffee. 

As harvest was over, we wouldn’t be seeing any processing. Instead, we drove down to the dry mill, where Nizamu supervised the milling of his lots. Dry milling removes the dried pulp and parchment skin, after which the coffee is sorted by size, density, and often by color. At this mill, the mechanical milling process is followed by local women removing any remaining defects by hand before the coffee is prepared for export.

Nizamu’s coffee is milled first in Gomma and again in Addis to ensure good sorting. The producer should ideally oversee the entire process, as mishaps are prone to happen – coffee can get “lost”, damaged or replaced.

Nizamu told us that the biggest challenges he faces are during the harvest season. Talented pickers are hard to come by since the main regions all harvest at more or less the same time. The younger generations tend to seek education, employment, and opportunities in the cities, leaving rural areas devoid of skilled workers (which is happening to agriculture everywhere in the world). Attracting a talented workforce requires a lot of money, as farmers must provide them with food and pay premiums. Nizamu does most of the work during harvest time with the help of his family. Nevertheless, efficiency at peak harvests requires extra hands, as does post-harvest refurbishment work. I’m planning to return in 2024 at peak harvest to experience the situation first-hand and to try out a few fermentation techniques together. 


It was time for a khat chewing session. Khat is an afternoon ritual for between 15% and 60% of the Ethiopian (mostly) male population, depending on the area. Khat (Catha edulis) is a plant whose leaves have an energizing effect that brings mild euphoria, similar to ephedrine or amphetamines. Much like coca in South America, khat is used by farmers to reduce fatigue and boost energy levels. It’s common to see chewing groups starting to form in the early afternoon, which signals the end of the workday.  

Khat and coffee have coexisted for a long time. Both can be traced to the forests of the Kaffa region. There are currently no clear restrictions or regulations in Ethiopia for growing, selling, or using khat, even though it’s known to cause serious health problems such as ulcers, cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers, depression, and anxiety. 

Mill staff started to appear with big khat bushes wrapped in paper, and chewing groups started to form. The popularity of khat has long created challenges for coffee production, not only because of its addictive nature. Growing khat is much more profitable than growing coffee. Farming it is also much less demanding, and payments come in faster. While coffee produces one annual crop, khat produces two. The plant is very low maintenance compared to Arabica, and the farmer is likely to receive a higher payment for a crop with less input. In drier areas, a lack of rain prevents planting coffee and khat side by side, as the latter absorbs minerals and water far faster than the former, causing the coffee crop to suffer. For example, the Harar area used to produce beautiful natural processed coffee, as the lack of water in the area made washed processing very difficult. But because the climate is getting hotter, Harar has gotten even drier, which has led many farmers to put their faith in khat growing. 

Coffee producers seem to be increasingly replacing coffee trees with khat. Which is fair enough – who wouldn’t want to remove all the unnecessary stress and change an unrewarding job to a more lucrative and easier one? Producers need to secure the income to ensure the well-being of their families. As long as people refuse to pay sustainable prices, coffee production will continue to decline, even in the lush and fertile areas.  

Khalid Shifa: Echemo

After another night in Agaro, we woke up not feeling fully refreshed. I decided that on my next visit, I might as well stay in a tent on Nizamu’s farm to avoid the commute. 

Shambe drove us up the hill again and we entered the famous Echemo Farm, managed by Khalid Shifa and his brother Ahmed. Echemo slopes down from a high hilltop into a forest, where the coffee is planted neatly under shade. The part of the farm above the tree line is used for drying coffee, and there’s also a small washing station with a disc pulper. When we visited, the drying tables had already been taken apart and piled into conical tepee-looking structures to withstand the rainy season. Though Khalid nowadays has a larger washing station nearby, coffee from Echemo is still processed on-site. 

Echemo is a special place. It used to belong to Khalid’s grandfather, who selected many of the varieties from nearby Choce Forest. This is common in Ethiopia. Coffee grows wild in the lush highland forests for local communities to harvest cherries and seedlings. It’s estimated that 90% of the Arabica plants grown worldwide trace back to these unique forests. 

We learned that, unfortunately, Khalid would not be joining us as he was overseeing milling in Addis. Ahmed, who was in charge of farm management, filled us in on what was going on at the farm. Echemo was at the time undergoing replanting and pruning, which is done to increase yields and manage plant health. The farm had been certified as organic. Organic farming is common in Ethiopia as chemical fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides are costly and often unnecessary. Despite this, many farmers can’t obtain official certification because of the high cost. 

The Shifa family has been growing their business over the past few years. They operate multiple washing stations in different regions near Agaro as well as a dry mill close to Echemo Farm. Owning a dry mill affords numerous advantages for a producer, but only makes financial sense if the producer’s output is large enough. 

Proper milling is a vital step of the supply chain. At the mill, coffee gets sorted by density, size, and, nowadays, often by color. This helps to separate defects and broken beans from the exportable coffee to ensure the best possible quality. Khalid’s family has been able to achieve control over their product and can also offer milling services to the community surrounding them. These hills are all about coffee.

We drove down to the mill and experienced yet another heartwarming coffee ceremony. We chimed in, with Florian giving an Aeropress workshop for the younger generation to allow us to compare taste. 

The Coffee Ceremony

Drinking coffee has been part of most Ethiopians' everyday lives for hundreds of years. Coffee is served everywhere. Tiny coffee stalls line the streets of even the smallest towns as people line up for their fix. Even as people increasingly flock to cities, preparing and drinking coffee remains a deeply communal and social event. I heard that older Ethiopians sometimes refuse to stay in an apartment building simply because preparing coffee in the traditional way can’t be done indoors. 

Every farm visit starts or eventually leads to drinking coffee roasted and brewed on the spot. Roasting is often done on coal or an open fire with a metal skillet. Grinding is done using a wooden mortar. Coffee is then added to a jebena, a carafe-like vessel that is brought to a boil over coal. Boiled coffee needs to sit for a while as the grounds fall to the bottom of the vessel and optimal drinking temperature is achieved. Small cups are then filled and served to guests, starting with visitors and the highest-ranking person by status or age. Popcorn, bread with honey, or barley are served as snacks. 

Women roasting coffee on an open fire

The coffee ceremony is always led by women. When visiting farms, the person in charge of the ceremony is usually a family member or close relative of the farmer. In an almost exclusively male-dominated coffee industry, women are often doing the heavy and undesired tasks of picking, pruning and sorting coffee. Despite this, it’s rare to see a woman in a leading position in the supply chain. This is true in other sectors of Ethiopian society as well. 

The coffee ceremony is an exception. This ceremony can happen any time of the day and often multiple ceremonies will be held. It’s an important chance for women to get together while men are away and talk with other members of the community and friends about their personal lives, politics, and topics that they can’t or don’t want to express openly. It’s also an opportunity for young women to learn from the older generation. 

In Ethiopia, drinking coffee is not tied to a class or lifestyle. Its purpose is social and unifying, which makes the experience almost spiritual. 

Here, coffee doesn’t carry the stigma attached to it in almost every other producing country, where it is farmed only to serve the needs of colonial powers and foreign consumer markets. It’s not uncommon for a producer to not even know what the coffee they cultivate tastes like in such countries. In Ethiopia, top-grade coffees need to be exported by law; even so, about half of total coffee production is consumed domestically.

Ethiopian woman serving coffee next to coffee drying beds

Ethiopians celebrate the fact that the country, unlike all its neighbors, has never been colonized. It’s not uncommon to hear an Ethiopian state that they are not Africans but Ethiopians. The coffee ceremony, for me, represents the pride Ethiopia takes in being not just the origin of coffee but of all mankind. The oldest homo sapiens skeleton was found not too far from the forest where coffee is said to have originated (although older fossils have since been found in Morocco). 

Zinabu Abamecha

From Agaro, we drove southwest towards the town of Bunga, which lies in the heart of the Kaffa/Keffa zone. In Bunga, we stayed in an old bungalow resort that has seen better days. Formerly a place that had allegedly accommodated even the Ethiopian president, it now had very few visitors, and its premises had begun to fall apart. This says a lot about the tourism in this beautiful and peaceful area – there is none. The only foreigners I have ever met in Bunga have been working in coffee.

A coffee producer in his coffee nursery

Zinabu has a large forest farm that he has organized well. It’s a magnificent place, rich in flora and fauna. The 40-hectare compound is set up in sectors from refurbished parts yielding high to fully forest-covered parts that are tougher to access. He has a modern Penagos eco pulper, enabling both honey and washed processing with very low water consumption. 

Again, a goat was cooked to welcome us. Zinabu also had gone out of his way by getting us a crate of half-a-litre pilsners to be enjoyed with the hefty lunch. We are, after all, a roastery from Germany.

While we ate, Zinabu reeled us back two years. He had certified the farm as organic and built a massive nursery to support his replanting, and to enable distribution to the neighbouring communities. The refurbishment is ongoing, and the plan is to plant the whole farm in a few years. He has a community of producers selling him cherry to produce larger volumes and he plans to certify some of their land as organic. 

This time, I wanted to visit the remote part of the farm. We walked through thick undergrowth, where coffee trees grew long and bent towards the sun. These under-shade trees have generally low yields as they create fewer primary branches. Zinabu was already planting seedlings between the trees to improve future volumes. While walking under the shade tree canopy, Colobus monkeys jumped above our heads, and the farm staff had to use knives to hack our way through the undergrowth. After a hike, we reached the highest part of the farm, which was fully in a natural state. I couldn’t help but think that this was very close to the humid, cool, and shaded climate where Arabica coffee was born.


It’s often coffee cultivation that protects these forests from being cut down and the land to be used for growing teff, maize, wheat, or khat. Producing dry processed coffee at forest farms like Zinabu’s actually ties down carbon emissions instead of producing more. The coffee industry is by no means emission-friendly, and often, water usage either worsens drought or the contaminated water from fermentation tanks pollutes the soil and freshwater sources if left untreated. It’s important to buy coffee from these forests to help preserve this unique ecosystem. 

Mankira Forest 

In the afternoon, we drove to Mankira forest, which is not far from Bonga. This forest is the origin of coffee, according to current consensus in Ethiopia. Wild and spontaneous coffee varieties grow here, making Mankira one of the last places in the world where this happens. 

The UNESCO biosphere that Mankira belongs to consists of multiple zones, some of which are forbidden to enter, and covers over 7,600 square kilometers in the Kaffa zone. It’s home to 650,000 people and includes Yayu and Sheka forests, wherein wild coffee can be found.

The lush, green, broccoli-like forest starts from a river over which hangs a makeshift bridge. Very few tourists – or anyone else for that matter – venture into this place. Locals live off the forest, harvesting food and coffee and tending to their cattle. Who is allowed to harvest wild coffee is dictated by a complicated system of ancestral rule. 

When we venture off the road, wild coffee is everywhere. It grows tall and is covered with bark and usnea. Unlike planted coffee, the trees are long and lean and seem unable to yield much cherry. I hear that the local community is also seeking a way to brand and export some of the coffee harvested from the forest, but the majority is roasted and brewed at their homes or sold at the local market.

Ethiopian forest

We are told not to venture too deep where the river flows. Wild buffalo and sometimes big cats go there to drink. It’s hard to keep track of the bird and animal sounds. Sun seeks its way through the branches and highlights the trunks and leaves of the coffee trees as we pass. The temperature is around 20 degrees, though the sun is up in a cloudless sky. It’s humid, still and green in every shade imaginable.

Our guide brings us to a coffee tree over six meters tall and around 20 cm in diameter. This is the mother tree, he claims. Though I gather this isn’t the actual mother tree, it’s still likely one of the oldest coffee trees in the world. We stand around and let it sink in. 

Ethiopia has the fastest-growing population in the world, which sustains the demand for farmland. The problem is that forests nowadays cover only 4% of the country. These natural seed banks not only foster coffee but other important crops as well. 

Climate change is threatening the existence of wild coffee in this forest as well. Arabica requires moderate temperature, high altitude and shade to prosper. Varieties in South and Central America have adapted to warmer climates and direct sunlight, but wild coffee hasn’t. This is the climate it needs to survive. 

When envisioning the future of arabica coffee, experts often put their faith in manmade hybrids. However, generating these hybrids is a business and excludes most small producers, especially on the African continent. Yet, I’m standing in a forest that potentially has answers to most of the pathogens and other problems coffee farmers around the world are fighting. For Arabica coffee to survive climate change across the coffee belt, crossbreeding with wild varieties may be an answer. However, about 60% of these forests have disappeared in the last three decades, and more are being cut down constantly. Coffee can’t be stored as germinable seeds, so the only other way to preserve wild varieties is to maintain a seed bank of living coffee trees. It’s easy to imagine the risks, complications, and costs of maintaining this. Currently, seed banks worldwide are under-financed. The Crop Trust and World Coffee Research have estimated that preserving the world’s most important coffee collections would cost around $25 million, and paying out 4% a year would save them permanently. To put this in context, that’s less than half the daily sales of the Starbucks coffee chain. 

Habtamu Ababe

The next morning, we drove deep into the Kaffa Zone to visit Mr. Habtamu. We met on the road, and I jumped into his car as he insisted on taking us directly to his new farm. Yet again, I’m blown away. The 120-hectare farm is extremely well-organized. A lot of planting is still going on, but some of the trees already yield cherries. 

Like most of the farmers we encountered on this visit, Habtamu appreciates the land he’s harvesting from and is committed to keeping it as untouched as possible.

A coffee producer on his farm

We talk with Habtamu about the challenges he’s facing, as we walk through the coffee trees, some already in their first flowering. His main concern is market access. This is a problem that most Ethiopian farmers share. They make big investments in their farms and processing infrastructure with the hope that overseas buyers will appear. Now, Habtamu’s market is mostly with local brokers, though he has everything needed for direct trade. The product is good – it’s well-processed quality coffee from an Ethiopian highland forest. 

He would like to increase the volumes to make his ambitious project more secure, but he needs partners who are willing to commit as well as pay a fair price for quality. 

Producers are often left alone to figure out the market. It’s difficult to reach roasters from the origin. Even if there’s a way to travel, where does one start? How do you build relationships and trust with roasters when large importers have the whole supply chain in their hands and can offer much simpler access to coffee, including financing and other services? Indeed, it looks like the independent operators will lose to multinationals even though the “third wave” movement was able to shake things up for a while. 

In the 2023 USDA Foreign Agricultural Service report, the Ethiopian coffee sector is showing stagnated production and export rates. The report also indicates that climate change has already affected the coffee sector and producers severely due to the dramatic loss of forest. Farmers are also abandoning coffee production to replace it with more economically sustainable and less vulnerable crops like khat. Currently, coffee makes up 30–35% of the country’s export earnings and affects the livelihood of 25% of the population. 

This year, Houti rebels orchestrated disturbances in shipping routes around the Horn of Africa, which have affected Ethiopian producers in many ways. When the Ethiopian coffee trade was centered around ECX (Ethiopia Commodity Exchange) auctions, exporters needed to pay for the coffee before it was handed over. Now, with markets open for direct sales and vertical integration of the supply chain, exporters and importers have contracted coffee on credit. Because large shipping companies avoid the Djibouti port, Ethiopian coffee isn’t moving anywhere. Alternative ports are logistically or politically difficult, and road transport is expensive and risky. This has led to farmers losing millions of Ethiopia birr in coffee and income — The Reporter Ethiopia talks about farmer suicides and mass rallies to seize the properties of exporters in debt. Growing coffee isn’t going to get more popular in Ethiopia. This is quite worrying as its coffee, and the natural growing environment can never be replaced. 

Ethiopia is one of the luckiest producing countries in the sense that it still has unplanted high-elevation forests that farmers could move to escape rising temperatures. It also has the majority of Arabica genetics in its farms and forests. The problem is that Ethiopian coffee producers are some of the worst-paid globally. If things stay as they are, what will be the incentive to keep going? How long will wild coffee forests be protected from climate change? As always, it all comes down to price. In general, people are unaware of the value of coffee. We, at the consuming end, have done a great job of devaluing it while seeking profits through exploitation. In my eyes, the grim reality is that it will be too late before that value is understood. When roasters discuss where the blackcurrant notes of Kenyan coffee disappeared or what happened to the incredibly floral and stone-fruity Ethiopian coffees we used to enjoy, it will all be traced back to the devaluation of coffee and exploitation of its producers. 

So you should enjoy coffee, in all its complexity, while it’s still around and available.


Ps. my hunch was right. As we were about to check in to our homebound flights, we found that Florian’s ticket had been cancelled. It took some convincing to get him back on the flight.


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