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Fall Fun Food and Drink Chapter Three - Ethiopia in my cup · 20.09.09 by colin newell

It is said that single-origin coffee and direct trade relationships with importers can be the key to breaking cycles of poverty in a coffee-producing country like Ethiopia.

With programs like Cup of Excellence making inroads; getting a fair price for the folks that produce the raw materials and bypassing dozens if not hundreds of middlemen – a life of circuitous misery guaranteed…
…the World has actually become a better place for coffee farmers.

So what is happening with Ethiopia right now? And why, does it seem that the government is taking a step backwards?

Some history.

From Fortune magazine: To produce a pound of organic sun-dried coffee, farmers in the southern Ethiopian village of Fero spread six pounds of ripe, red coffee cherries onto pallets near their fields. They sun the fruit for 15 days, stirring every few minutes to ensure uniform dryness, then shuck the shells.

Last season, that pound of coffee fetched farmers an average price of $1.45. Figuring in the cost of generator fuel, bank interest, labor and transport across Ethiopia’s dusty roads, it netted them less than $1. In the U.S., however, that same pound of coffee commands a much higher price: $26 for a bag of Starbucks’ roasted Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo.

The price differential is evidence that Ethiopia has been unable to capitalize on its intellectual property, coffee.

So Ethiopia decided to trademark names like Yirgacheffe, Harrar and Sidamo.
But Starbucks beat them to it.
And remarkable or not, this raises a wild ride of questions about our “right” to a great cuppa and the farmers right to capitalize on their wonderful beans.

In the end, Ethiopia won and created an Ethiopia Coffee Exchange (ECX) – and at many levels getting a real bead on where your great coffee beans are coming from… well exactly… is somewhat muted.
Still, Ethiopia’s 12 million plus subsistence farmers should be able to rise above some of the Western imposed adversity. For Starbucks, their public relations disaster, pitting the coffee company, which had record revenue of $7.8 billion last year, up 22 percent over 2005, against one of the world’s poorest countries, is a tad tacky.

And as a lover of Misty Valley Ethiopian coffee (a bean we might not be seeing for a while…), I am equally guilty (OK not 7.8 Billion dollar guilty…) of contributing on some small level to the misery in Country…
Except that this great coffee was probably purchased during an online auction netting the farmers 10 times as much money as they would have had on the other inferior schemes.

Coffee has always been a roller coaster – and Ethiopia is a great example of how great things can come to an awesome, proud and hardworking people… if we can all just figure this thing out.

Coming up, a review of a “pooled” Ethiopian coffee – a truly great one… From Transcend Coffee in Edmonton, Canada.


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