Farm: Guji Uraga
Varietal: Wolicho and 74110
Altitude: 2,229 meters above sea level
Owner: Mitiku Alemayhu
Town / City: Uraga
Guji Uraga G2 - Ethiopia
Grown in the ancient Guji zone of the Oromia region – this area is known for its red fertile soils and high elevations. Mitiku Alemayhu, owner of the farm, has been producing coffee since his childhood. Now, he plans to pass on his skills to his children.
In order to maintain a livable income, Mitiku grows coffee in addition to raising cattle, and growing bananas, maize, and other fruits such as avocado.
Climate change has impacted the region – especially when rainfall fails to arrive at the correct moment during fruit development. Yet, there are mechanisms in place to introduce better varieties, provide technical support, and financial aid to connect producers to premium markets and seedlings. Social programs are in development to disperse loans to producers to assist with on-farm improvements whilst also providing access to clean water services. There are future plans to construct new hospitals and schools for the community.
The farm faces some challenges such as infrastructure and transportation – with difficult to navigate roads, making the movement of coffee difficult. Additionally, the community lacks a developed educational system and buildings. Surrounding communities also experience poor water quality and other facility issues that could be improved.
Mitiku regulates the farm’s soil health by applying humus to maintain the nutrient uptake by both the coffee and the shade trees. Humus is the decomposing organic matter found within the soil. In Ethiopia, many coffee farms are what is known as ‘passive organic,’ maintaining organic practices but unable to afford the high certification fees. Producers similar to Mitiku cannot afford expensive inputs such as pesticides and herbicides, so rely on natural fertilizers and pest predators.
After many years within the coffee industry, Mitiku has perfected the harvesting and processing of the cherries, allowing for distinctly sorted coffee, free from over and overripe coffee cherries. After the coffee is picked, sorters carefully remove any low quality or foreign matter prior to drying. The raised beds are prepared and filled with a thin layer of coffee to be dried in the sun. Mold growth is prevented by regularly moving the cherries. Drying can take roughly 15 days, depending on the weather. Once the coffee is dried, it is transported onto trucks and taxied to the dry mill located 439 km away.
Mercanta has worked with Mitiku since 2019.
About the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and Traceability:
For many years, Ethiopian coffee, some of the best in the world, was for the most part untraceable.
Starting in 2008, Ethiopia began the centralization of all coffee exports through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), where the coffees were ‘anonymised’, stripped of any information other than region, in the interest of the farmers, who were meant to receive top dollar for quality regardless of the ‘name’ of the washing station or farm. Coffees moving through the ECX were (still are) delivered to certified coffee labs, where they were cupped according to profile then graded and marked generically for export. This ‘equalising’ measure certainly benefitted some producers, but it had the negative impact of eliminating most roasters’ and importers’ ability to provide accurate information of the precise traceability of coffees. Even after the opening of the ‘second window’ (devised for direct sales of cooperative and certified coffee), as of the end of 2017 some 90 percent of coffees still moved through the ECX.
The end of March 2017 saw a huge overturning of this mandatory system. In a bill raised by the Ethiopian Coffee & Tea Development and Marketing Authority, Ethiopian coffee (even that sold through the ECX) can be marketed and sold with full traceability intact. The aim is to limit black market dealings, to demand higher prices and to enable Ethiopian producers to share in a greater piece of the pie.
In a bit more detail, the new system allows any exporter with a valid license to sell directly to buyers without placing the coffee on the ECX first. There is a slight caveat – the parchment coffee will have to be sold within three days of arriving at the processing plant in Addis. If it is still unsold after three days (which is quite likely), it must be sold through the ECX: BUT with its traceability info intact rather than being deleted. Additionally, it is proposed that overseas companies will be able to plant and sell coffee, though this is still undetermined as of 2018/19’s harvest.
As of September 2019, The Ethiopian government and the European Union have officially announced the beginning of a €15 million five-year program, designed to boost the Ethiopian coffee sector. The program, named EU-Coffee Action for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (EUCAFE), focuses on Ethiopia’s primary growing regions, namely, Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SSNPR) and Amhara. The project aims to tackle a number of objectives, including food security and health for vulnerable populations, improving farmer access to credit, technical assistance and inputs, marketing and strengthening premium market channels, climate change mitigation and involving more women and youth.