Introducing new technology for small scale coffee growers
Thanks to its ideal climate in the high plateaux of Eastern Africa, Ethiopia is producing some of the best coffee in the world with unique arabica varieties not found anywhere else. Coffee is also a great source of income for the country, representing about 30 percent of its total export and is grown over an area estimated at about 400,000 hectares. Unlike the vast coffee plantations found in other parts of the World, in Ethiopia coffee is still grown mainly by small scale farmers who do not benefit from the same technology and awareness of quality as their counterparts elsewhere.
|A small scale farmer next to his coffee tree © Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
The Agricultural Marketing Improvement Programme (AMIP) supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Ethiopia, started working with coffee producers to train them on improved agronomical practices. Coffee production is still extremely traditional with most of it done by hand and very little technology used. As a result, the quality of the coffee beans can be unequal with wide variation from one farmer to the next and from one season to the next. Even with the best marketing system in place, the quality of the coffee first depends on the farmers growing it. They are the ones nurturing the plant so it can have good yields, picking the cherries at full maturity and not too early, and washing or drying the beans with care.
Using the extended network of agricultural extension workers and primary cooperative, AMIP helped introduced a training programme aimed at small scale coffee farmers to improve the quality of their coffee to reach regular export standard. Using simple graphic tools such as drawings and pictures, farmers were taught to pick the cherries at full maturity (when they are red) and pay attention to the quality of the cherries, by discarding the damaged ones. “Coffee is their livelihood, so it is important that those farmers get a good income from it,” explained Shimekit Gebretsadick, AMIP project coordinator in the Southern Region, “in many cases, they needed support to improve agronomical techniques to reach export standard and fetch a better price.”
Working on post harvest infrastructure
|Learning to pick coffee cherries at maturity © Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
As part of its objective of improving marketing infrastructure, the AMIP project financed a number of coffee washing stations to introduce better post-harvest technologies to small scale farmers. After harvest, coffee cherries can be either sun-dried or washed. The more traditional method of drying coffee involves manually placing the cherries on raised purpose-built drying beds and living them in the sun until they are ready to be hulled and roasted. Dried cherries usually produce a sweeter and more intense aroma, however, the quality can be irregular. With the washing process, the pulp is mechanically removed and the beans cleaned using water, resulting in a cleaner, brighter and fruiter aroma with a more consistent quality. The pulp waste can be used to make compost to fertilize vegetable garden plots.
In the Damot Gale district, farmers from the Garagudo primary cooperative have benefited from the support of AMIP for the construction of a new coffee washing station. The programme opened a credit line of 400,000 Birr which the cooperative will pay back over the next two years.
|Members of the Garagudo primary cooperative in their coffee washing station © Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
Thanks to the new technology, farmers are now able to add value to their crop by selling washed coffee beans to their cooperative union as opposed to raw cherry beans. “We used to sell coffee beans for 56 Birr per kg, now we can fetch a price of 91 Birr/kg thanks ot the washing station,” said Iyasu Moliso, the cooperative’s manager. As a matter of comparison, retail export quality coffee in Addis may fetch a price of over 300 Birr/kg. In the last season, the cooperative was able to pulp 4.2 tonnes of coffee. The cooperative counts 447 members, including 174 are women of which three are serving on the committee. “The added value has translated into a greater income for us which is very good,” said Iyasu. Before the washing station and the agronomical training, the cooperative was producing a grade 9 coffee, now its production is of export quality at grade 1 or 2. They have opened a bank account and through the assistance of their local marketing and cooperative Office (a sub-office of the government’s Regional Cooperative and Marketing Bureau), they have established relations with a micro-finance institution to develop further their business. “Life is gradually improving for us,” unanimously said the cooperative members.
Modernizing the coffee value chain in Ethiopia
Coffee is an important commodity in Ethiopia, representing almost a third of the country’s export. As well as being the largest export crop and one of the best quality of arabica in the world, coffee is also a traditional beverage consumed daily. Half of the coffee produced is consumed nationally. Drinking coffee in Ethiopia is part of a traditional ceremony which involves not only the art of consuming the beverage but also the strengthening of family, friendship and social bonds.
|Checking the coffee beans after roasting ©Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
In Ethiopia, the majority of the coffee produced is still grown by small scale farmers with scattered plots, who tend to sell their production through primary cooperatives which are part of larger cooperative unions selling directly to the market. As a result, they depend on a well functioning value-chain to maximize income for their commodity. Since the Agricultural Marketing Improvement Programme (AMIP) supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) started working on improving the coffee value chain for small scale farmers, their income and livelihood have improved as well as their knowledge of the market.
The development of regional coffee testing centres was one of the successful features implemented by AMIP. “The AMIP project financed the building of regional liquoring centres where the quality of the coffee is tested and graded,” explained Shimekit Gebretsadick, AMIP project coordinator in the Southern Region. “Before that, coffee grains had to be transported all the way to Addis to be graded.” Such exercise was inefficient as well as costly for the traders and consequently for the farmers, who got a lower price for it because of the added transportation cost. In addition, farmers had little knowledge of quality requirements because the coffee was graded so far away from their farm.
|Coffee bags ready to be delivered to the buyer ©Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
With AMIP support, the so-called liquoring centres were built in the four main coffee producing centres of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), namely in Awasa, Dilla, Sodo and Bonga. “One of our project’s objectives was to improve marketing infrastructure,” explained Shimekit, “in that respect, we built the liquoring centres.” Once operational, the management of the coffee liquoring centres was taken over by the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), the country’s new trading platform started in 2008 to make the market more transparent and efficient. “Now we have a functioning marketing infrastructure at regional level as opposed to have everything centralised in Addis,” Shimekit added.
Coffee testing and grading centres
|Grading coffee according to export standard ©Wairimu Mburathi, IFAD Office in Ethiopia|
As part of the new system, farmers take their coffee crop to the liquoring centre through their local cooperative Union. There, the coffee is tested and graded on a scale of 1 to 9 (1 and 2 being the best export quality coffee) and according to one of four defined origins in the region(Sidamo 1,2,3 and 4). The information is sent electronically to ECX in Addis where the crop is traded and the price set. Once trade has taken place, the buyer transfers the total amount of the sale to the account of the supplier (a Union or an individual trader). The buyer then collects the goods from the ECX store and organises transport to Addis. After further cleaning, the coffee is packed for export and shipped to foreign clients. “Now we have a smooth coffee value chain, and efficient marketing is taking place,” explained Ato Jemo, manager of the Sodo coffee liquoring centre. “The coffee given to traders is of standard quality and just as importantly, farmers get feedback on what the market wants, so they can improve quality.” Before the grading centres were established at regional level, farmers had little knowledge of the required quality for the international market. In a rush to sell their crop, they often picked the coffee cherries too early instead of patiently waiting for them to reach maturity. As the result, the coffee was not suitable for export, and they got a much lower price for it.
The coffee grader professionals in the centre are selected by the Ministry of agriculture and trained full-time for three months with the support of the AMIP programme which has a dedicated budget line for it. They received an internationally recognized qualification following the training, which enables them to assess the quality of the beans through smell, taste and look.
In total, the AMIP project financed the construction of eight liquoring centres in the region, where farmers cooperatives can bring their crop and receive direct feedback on the quality of the beans. They also receive immediate information on national and international market prices through the liquoring centres as well as the huge electronic price boards ECX put in place in the main coffee producing centres. “We now have farmers who are better informed and more aware of their market,” concluded Shimekit.