Coffee Farming and Poverty Reduction in Ethiopia

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ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia, historically known as the origin nation of the coffee plant experiences high levels of poverty, due mainly to the “combination of regional conflict and dependence on exporting primary agricultural products.”

East Africa Coffee Initiative

Nonetheless, to provide assistance with this process, an organization named TechnoServe – based in Washington D.C. has set forth a project called – East Africa Coffee Initiative. TechnoServe’s vision is based on “enabling smallholder farmers to improve their productivity and increase household incomes.”

Within the Initiative, the organization narrows down on the benefits of introducing and improving certain agronomical and the wet mill programs — both of which are essential in the correlation between coffee farming and the reduction of poverty in Ethiopia.

The Coffee Process

The coffee beans that originate from Ethiopia all pass through what is known as the wet process. According to the Third Wave Coffee Source, the wet process consists of “sorting cherries by immersing them in water, where the ripe cherries sink while any remaining unripe cherries float and are skimmed from the top.”

Following this initial phase, the wet mill conductor then moves onto, “placing the cherries that sink go through a pulper, which takes away the outer skin. What remains of the cherry is placed in fermentation tanks and soaked in water to loosen the mucilage. During this process, a controlled fermentation of sugars contained within the mucilage takes place, affecting the flavor of the bean. This process usually takes between 24-36 hours, before washing this gooey substance away with water.”

Being able to control, monitor and record the exercise of the wet process has allowed farmers to “improve the quality of their Arabica coffees.” The Wet Mill program located and maximized the ability of the high-quality, washed coffee beans from Ethiopia to meet the world market’s continued demand for this particular crop.

A Focus on Farmers

Providing farmers with the skills and the knowledge of “price risk management, logistics, and linkages to international coffee buyers” has also heightened the status of the Ethiopian coffee farmers in the eyes of the coffee-importing nations reliant on its crops.

TechnoServe works with Ethiopian farmers to ensure a trusted yield. According to TechnoServe, “prior to the start of the program, there were 119 wet mills in the Jimma/Illubabor region and now there are 188.” An increase in the amount of wet mills throughout both regions equates in a higher seasonal income for the coffee farmers. The rise in the process of production is a key factor in the correlation between coffee farming and the reduction of poverty in Ethiopia.

Farm Colleges

The organization also enrolled individuals in Farm Colleges — “a farmer training program. educating smallholder coffee farmers on sustainable agronomic practices to increase their yields.” Over the course of the program, this approach saw a 42 percent increase in average yield improvement.

TechnoServe was able to provide an “analysis of wet mill profitability,” which indicated that in order for both farms and co-ops to remain relevant in the market, there needed to be certain adjustments made to the current system. “Ensuring a number of part-time volunteers” would be a great pay-off for both the producers as well as the job seekers throughout Ethiopia.

Volunteer Programs

The public will perhaps have a chance to learn about coffee farming practices and gradually take on roles that will guarantee an income through the practice of volunteering. The indication is able to be made since, “Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in the region of East Africa, but it also has a very large domestic market as well.”

Volunteering programs will therefore play a crucial role in being the driving force behind Ethiopia’s economy. they will help enable an inclusive market, while also maintain a healthy level of competition. In addition, having direct access to world markets will eliminate the uncertainty found throughout the Ethiopian farmer population.

Gender Equality

By creating an inclusive market in regards to coffee, Ethiopia will also be able to address issues of “gender equality and women’s empowerment” in addition to the foreseeable correlation between coffee production and reduction of poverty. This modus operandi will continue to remove hurdles placed in front of the Ethiopian female population.

Coffee is a “key commodity in Ethiopia and supports over one million households and accounts for over 30 percent of annual exports.” Although, according to EqualExchange, “annually, the average Ethiopian coffee farmer earns about $900 per year. The women who work in the coffee warehouses can make as little as $20 per month.”

Ethiopian farmers must continue the farming practices introduced during this initiative for, primarily, a better understanding of the world market and its demand for coffee.

This understanding will equate in less economic dependence and will also help to better address poverty within the nation’s borders. This way, there will be an increase of jobs created domestically. Ethiopia will see its way out of poverty and stride for a prosperous future through the adaptation and implementation of this mindset in addition to important coffee farming developments.

Efe Ulucay
Photo: Flickr

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