Ethiopia 2012: Pushing the Coffee Wall
Ethiopia was my own personal coffee promised land long before I ever first visited in 2007, before even becoming a coffee buyer in the early 2000’s. After 20 years in coffee, 2007 marked a turning point in my coffee life…also, too, in my personal life. The American poet, Charles Olson suggested the idea of the private soul against the public wall. This idea is so fitting when you consider this the birthplace of coffee and civilization. Ethiopia pulls at you, saddens you, uplifts you and, in the end, pushes you into what is possible. I have seen change, most of it good, in the remote areas of coffee production. Many of us in the supply chain should celebrate the accomplishments that have occurred. Sincere and focused accomplishments are set in motion as yet another harvest approaches. I would, however, celebrate with caution- the town of Jimma is torn at the ear with lack of infrastructure, clean water and basic human needs that many of us will never even comprehend in the United States. Jimma has seen its old Kingdom shift and disappear, yet there is important work being done–massively important.
I witnessed a young woman training a community of caring farmers in Agaro how to cup (taste) and better understand the coffee they grow at the Nano Challa Cooperative washing station. It moved me beyond anything I can muster through words. Recently, Technoserve/Falcon Coffee, as an example in this case, shed immense light, a stark contrast to 2007 when I met with a widow growing coffee in the bleakest of situations near Bonga and she truly had no sense of there being any light at the end of the tunnel; she held my hand and wouldn’t let it go as she asked for any help we could give her. On this trip in 2012, I sat in a room with a group of committee members at Duromina’s Cooperative office and listened to constructive questions about dealing with local competition and how they should work through what that poses to their community. They informed us that they planned to buy a bus with 2011/12 dividends in order to bring their children to school, help remote members of the coop bring cherry to the washing stations and basically further connect their community. A brilliant and essential move, indeed.
A lot has changed…and I am certain that in another five years we will be looking at Ethiopia and not believing how far they have come from the days of 2012. As a coffee buyer and as a citizen of the planet, my dream is that our personal efforts help change and evolve the public wall that Olson suggests, that our business ideals transcend despair, and that our dollars feed and strengthen communities not fragment them. I celebrate my visits this year to Duromina and Nano Challa Cooperatives. We will continue doing a hell of a lot more and continue to think out of the box as much as is possible and deliver on our promises at Stumptown Coffee Roasters to make a difference in more than just delivering the excellent coffee we source, roast and serve to our customers. It feels mostly insurmountable, but there is this quiet sense of practical hope which serves as nourishment towards the next generation of coffee growers as well as roasters and buyers pushing the envelope as far as possible in what coffee can be…
November 28-30th, 2012
Jimma-Addis Ababa, Ethiopia