Meselech Tube has been farming coffee in Sidamo Bensa Daye since the 1990s. She inherited Shantaweyne Farm from her family and today, she supports her 6 children with the profits from her coffee business. Three of her adult children work on the farm with her.
Until recently, a single producer lot from Ethiopia would have been unthinkable. But thanks to recent changes to government regulations, we’re now able to purchase coffee directly from the producers, and Meselech’s goal is for her coffee to be known worldwide.
To do this, she is investing in specialty-quality cultivation and processing, she has introduced high quality varieties from the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) to the farm. JARC is responsible for developing many of the varieties that flourish across Ethiopia today. She is also investing in upgrading her processing infrastructure, showing her commitment to improving quality and yields.
Meselech intercrops coffee trees with banana, avocado and mango trees as well as timber tree and enset (false banana). She also has some livestock and uses manure as well as other organic farm byproducts to fertilize her coffee trees.
The harvest season typically runs from November to January. Meselech selectively handpicks ripe, red cherry and processes it on her farm. She dries cherry on raised beds and rakes them frequently to ensure even drying. It takes approximately 2 to 3 weeks for cherry to dry.
Ethiopian Commodity Exchange:
No conversation about Ethiopian coffee would be complete without discussing the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). The organization has been much maligned within the specialty coffee industry since its inception in 2008.
The foundation on which the ECX was built was laid out in a 2007 TED Talk by economist Eleni Gabre-Mahin (who, in 2008, would become the founding COE of the ECX in 2008). Her plan, she said, would create wealth, minimize risk for farmers and turn one of the world’s poorest countries into one of its fastest-growing economies.
In theory, this all sounded great – and should have been something that everyone in the coffee industry could support. However, coffee is an awkward fit within the larger commodity category – quality being the biggest differentiator of price, meaning buying and selling specialty coffee is more complex.
Before we talk about negatives associated with the ECX, it’s important to remember that it has, and continues to have, a positive impact on many coffee farmers’ lives. Prior to the establishment of the ECX many Ethiopian coffee producers had little to no access to sufficient credit, market information, and transportation (to move their coffee from the farm, to warehouses in Adis Ababa) among many other vital resources. For many Ethiopian farmers, coffee producers included, the ECX came as a way forward after years of struggle and hardship.
Upon its founding, government regulations required all coffee sold within Ethiopia, to be sold through the ECX. In return, the ECX provided many advantages to small-hold producers throughout the country – easy access to accurate NYSE coffee prices, so producers can make informed decisions as to when they sell their crop. Next-day payment for coffee after it’s sold, because buyers are required to deposit finds into an ECX account prior to participating in any auctions. Centralized warehousing and access to national/international markets.
The biggest concern, from a specialty standpoint, of the established ECX system was traceability. Coffees sold though the ECX are grouped together in larger regional lots, making it impossible to trace specific coffees back to individual farmers, co-ops, or washing stations. In 2017, after pressure from the Specialty Coffee Association and Specialty Coffee buyers, the Ethiopian government relaxed the regulations allowing all Ethiopian coffee, including coffee sold through the ECX, to be marketed with full traceability. Farmers and Producer Groups are now able to negotiate directly with exporters and bypass the ECX platform. Exporters can now establish their own warehouses, consequently giving them more control over the sampling, scoring, and overall quality of the coffees they bring in. This enables a dialogue with the producer and increases traceability.
The 2017 “vertical integration” loophole is certainly a good thing for the specialty coffee sector, but it’s important to remember that specialty coffee is a very small sector within the larger coffee industry, and the ECX continues to be a net positive for many farmers.