To arrive to cold weather in Africa was unexpected, but on the morning of the 7th January we embraced the cold after landing into Addis Ababa only two hours late.
We were picked up by Tadesse on the African Boxing Day which occurs two weeks after the 25th.
After familiarising ourselves with the Intercontinental in Addis,which doesn’t match up to the website as it is not part of the Intercontinental group - as one would think judging by the photos.
We then drove to a union which was first set up in 1999 by 34 cooperative societies that represented 22,691 members. To date the numbers have increased to 217 representing 202,397 members.The union and cooperatives own 60 pulperies, 26 hullers and 75 warehouses that processes and holds 202,524 tonnes annually.
After talks about the progress of the union, we travelled close by to a school which the union has funded and provides education for over 2000 children in the local area.
We travelled down South East towards Dire Dawa, a small town in the Harrar area.
Whilst traveling south we drove past the new dry port where all goods arrive as part of a transhipment location that is built on the turn off to Djibouti.
What was noticed as we travelled south down country is that the people are quite resourceful. Many stalls were to be seen that were selling fruit, vegetables, eucalyptus trees that are used for scaffolding and other products that were grown locally.
We arrived in Mesala village where we visited a dry mill that was 2250masl. One of the farms that has their coffee hulled at the mill was called Rakobas owned by Mr Abdela. The farm was 1700masl, 550m lower in altitude than the hulling station. At present 70 primary societies deliver to the station after the coffee is dried at their farm/house of each member. The cooperative produces approximately 3000 bags per year which is a great number of bags considering the size of the station.
On our arrival back to Dire Dawa we were invited into a house where we tried for the first time coffee leafs as a type of green tea and also the coffee husks which are roasted for a minute and then boiled. After tasting these ‘new’ styles we were offered coffee cherries in butter, which I can safely say is as bad as it sounds.
The cooperative which we visted in Geneti is rarely visited by anyone other than the farmers due to the quality of the road. I have to admit half the road is fine but the final few miles were a tad sketchy as the road was slippery and the car kept sliding towards the cliff edge. The most impressive part of this cooperative was that farmers used donkeys to travel 20km up the mountain to deliver to the coop, roughly 400 donkeys were needed per container! Now the cooperative has bought a truck with the Fairtrade Premium so that the donkeys can have a well-earned rest.
It was great to see the benefits that are given to areas who wisely use the Fairtrade premium as aside from the truck, a new road, fences, power, drying beds and two schools have been built the school provides education for 400 children.
The reason for Harrar producing natural is a lack of moisture in the mucilage during the ripping of the cherry; this is due to the lack of rain that falls in the area.
I can safely say I will not put up my hand again if asked “does someone mind sitting in the back of the car from Harrar to Yirgacheffe”. I realised the journey would be a long one, but 13 hours later not even St.George (local beer) could fix my jelly legs!
After staying a night in a westernised traditional hut in Yirgacheffe we braved the wild and trekked to see some hyenas and Columbus monkeys, the hyenas soon scarpered once we saw them, so please excuse the lack of photos.
The Yirgacheffe region is a complete contrast to Harrar and is full of greenery and rich dark soil.
On the road to the cooperatives signs that farmers were holding onto their coffee from the washing stations that supply the ECX as a result of the low prices, instead a few farmers were offering their green beans on the roadside.
Both cooperatives that we visited were 1800masl; it was great to see the pride that the board members have for their coffee and the uniform of the red cherries - something that is rarely seen in any coffee producing country. As thanks of our arrival we ‘gladly’ accepted some more of the dreaded cherry skin in butter, which I don’t think any of us would opt for against any other snack..
During the evening unbeknown to us we were travelling with an Ethiopian pop ‘sensation’ Kenny Allen, who in rural Ethiopia is known for his singing and unorthodox dance moves which were being played on Ethiopia’s version of ‘MTV’. We stayed in a small hotel for the night in Bule Hora in Sidamo before heading back to Addis Ababa the following morning.
After being electrocuted twice while attempting to have a shower we made our way to a Sidamo cooperative on our way back to Addis.
The cooperative is located 1855 masl with 2050 members (70 women) and was formed in 2004 in the Sidamo type coffee in the Oromia Borena zone. The Government has built a new road this year which has helped farmers deliver their coffee quicker, it is noticeable that the Government is making sure that roads to cooperative from towns are smooth to ensure that transporting coffee is quicker than what it used to be.
Coffee is picked in the afternoon and then pulped in the evening. Fermented under water for 48 hours, then washed in the washing channels and then put into the washing tank before being moved to the drying beds for 7-12 days dependant on the sun where the parchment is hand sorted.
Before leaving the coop we were invited to have a coffee with the industry manager, initial thoughts from Simons facial expressions were that something wasn’t quite right – it was laced with ginger! I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who thinks this would taste pleasant.
We arrived back in Addis hours later than expected after our car broke down due to the diesel being cut with water.
One of our exporters located in Addis, took us to the auction. Unlike other East African countries, the auctions are held every day, suppliers wear green jackets and the buyers wear the Kakhi coloured jackets. Once a supplier brings coffee to the auction they have 30 days to sell, otherwise an interest fee of 3.5% per day is charged, each lot is the equivalent of 30 bags, and prices are sold in Bir/17kg which is ‘frazula’.
Once two parties confirm that they have reached an agreed price they high five. This does look quite peculiar when you have three suppliers and one buyer all trying to agree a price – high fives are thrown everywhere.
General thoughts were that the development of the country is massive and Addis Ababa in particular has grown a considerably with some questionable 5* hotels popping up.
To sum up, Ethiopia is a lovely country and this trip really puts it into perspective why relationships with producing countries are so vital. The care that goes into producing the qualities from the cooperatives, and the use of the profit for roads and schools reminds us the reason why we source our coffee directly.