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What does the fall in Ethiopian coffee exports mean for local growers?

Coffee bean exports play an important role in the economy of Ethiopia, as they account for approximately three per cent of the entire global coffee market.

However, the Ethiopian Trade Ministry has announced that exports have declined by around 50 per cent in the last ten months alone – an issue which comes with potential economic and social implications for the country and its coffee growers.

What has happened in the country? Is it still a major player in the global coffee market? What does the significant decrease in bean exports mean for Ethiopian coffee growers and their families? 

A brief history of coffee growing in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is widely renowned as the birthplace of coffee, with many believing natives in the tenth century were among the first to notice the stimulating effects that coffee consumption can have.

The beans began to be spread throughout the Middle East, to Europe and then to America, as more and more people garnered a taste for coffee and its effects.

Over the years, the country has been blighted by political and economic troubles, with many Ethiopians relying on agricultural trades such as coffee growing in order to make a living.

Nowadays, more than 75,000 coffee-growing households in Ethiopia are members of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU), which provides local people with links to Fairtrade roasters.

What's the current state of affairs?

Ethiopia is currently ranked third in the world in terms of the highest number of coffee exports.

Despite this, earlier in June, it was announced by the Ethiopian Trade Ministry that Ethiopian coffee exports had declined significantly during the last ten months, with a fall of around 50 per cent.

The country's capital city Addis Ababa saw 136,000 tonnes of coffee beans exported via its ports during the ten-month period, indicating a fall of 8.79 per cent compared to the same time in 2013, with revenues decreasing by 15.8 per cent.

Speaking to a business reporter for Geeska Afrika, a member of the Coffee Exporters' Association of Ethiopia explained: "The Ethiopian coffee decline in exports is mainly due to weak European demand, particularly from European nations like Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, as buyers in these countries were looking for cheaper coffees.

"Though we had expected a decline in exports in the range of five per cent this year, the final figure for the year is much higher."

Additionally, the Trade Ministry has blamed power disruption, delays relating to business deals and fluctuating market prices for the sharp drop in exports, with Arabica coffee prices in particular currently ranking significantly lower than the price of production for growers.

Production costs have risen as the prices of fertilisers, fuel and labour have all increased in recent months, further adding to the issue.

With regard to different bean varieties, Robusta coffee experienced a greater number of exports in the final two months of the fiscal year, while those relating to Arabica slowed.

Germany was the country importing the most coffee from Ethiopia during the ten-month period, closely followed by Saudi Arabia, the US, Belgium, Sudan and the UK.

The future of Ethiopian coffee

At the second International Coffee Conference in November last year, US ambassador to Ethiopia Patricia Haslach stated: "We have confidence that the Ethiopian Coffee Exporters Association will continue to grow and the Ethiopian coffee sector will thrive."

Just over six months after Ms Haslach's speech comes the report of the decline in exports, so it will be interesting to see how the country's coffee industry continues to trade in the near future.

Ethiopia still holds the title of the third biggest exporter of coffee beans in the world though, with interest in its quality products continuing to come in from across the globe.