News / Africa

Ethiopian Economy Counting on Perks of Coffee Trade

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

Multimedia

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 covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More