News / Africa

Ethiopian Economy Counting on Perks of Coffee Trade

Workers inspect coffee beans in Ethiopia
Workers inspect coffee beans in Ethiopia


Some of the world’s finest specialty coffees come from Africa, and now some African countries are looking at ways to make sure the perks of the lucrative coffee trade are not limited to coffee connoisseurs.

Morning at a coffee shop in Washington and the grind is on.

Only these customers are not buying just any coffee.  They are buying expensive, specialty coffee grown in Ethiopia.

"It doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste.  It’s a smoother tasting coffee," one customer said.

"We’ve had Ethiopian coffee on the menu since day one.  The day that we opened we knew that was a country of origin we really wanted to feature," said shop owner Ryan Jensen.

"This is original coffee from the birthplace of coffee," another costumer said.

Ahmed Mustafa has grown coffee for more than 30 years on the lush green hills of Ethiopia’s Agaro region. "We don’t have anything else other than coffee.  Coffee is the only source of income and the only source of life in this area," he said.

Mustafa uses his half hectare farm to support more than 10 children and grandchildren.  But he worries.  Last year’s harvest was good - the current crop is not.

Much of the land around Agaro is divided into these small coffee plantations. But it is not just the farmers who are dependent on coffee.  

Once the beans are picked, they are processed and bagged  in warehouses, then eventually, shipped out.

For years, this is where the Ethiopian coffee trade would become murky.

If, when and how much farmers were paid was always a question.  And buyers were never quite sure of the source of their bean, critical information in the world of high-end coffees.

"The key transformation that we’re looking for is to turn our farmers into business-minded, profit seeking commercial actors," said  Eleni Gabre-Madhin, who heads the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, and wants Ethiopia to be a dominant player in the global coffee market.

"We’re sitting on the potential of quadrupling the amount of coffee that we currently produce on this land," Gabre-Madhin said.

For the past two years, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange has made that its goal, attempting to guarantee growers a fair price and give specialty coffee companies a consistent, quality product.

Only, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition.  Caught in the middle - companies like Keffa Coffee. It imports beans from Agaro to the Port of Baltimore in the United States.

Owner Samuel Demisse says he and his customers like what the Exchange is trying to do… Only, he says it is not working. "Price is definitely going down because we cannot trace the farm.  We cannot trace who produced it, that good coffee, so we are not paying what we used to pay," he said.

Demisse says that while the overall quality of the coffee has improved, too often beans from different coffee plantations are being mixed together - which is not what buyers want.

"Relationships are very important. We don't only buy coffee, we buy the history behind the coffee," he said.

And the problem has Keffa Coffee’s partners taking notice.

Alex Brown is with U.S.-based Counter Culture Coffee, which buys beans from all over the world to sell on the U.S. market.

"Ethiopian coffees are getting a little more complicated in purchasing because of the ECX - the formation of that," he said. "We’re trying to learn.  We’re trying to adapt.  We’re trying to really kind of have the same direct relationships that we like to have, through that system."

Yet for all the concerns, the problems do not seem to be trickling down to the coffee shops themselves.  

"We have a story to tell and our customers are always looking for a special story," Jensen said.

A story about beans from Ethiopia some coffee lovers just can’t wait to drink up.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs