Discovering Ethiopia, Part 2: Visiting Farms and Co-ops

This is the second post in a series about Zoka's recent coffee sourcing trip to Ethiopia, as we spent time visiting farms and co-ops - click here to start from the beginning. These are written by Peter McBride as he joined Jeff on his first coffee adventure. We hope you enjoy!

Most local coffee farmers have three options when it comes to selling their crop:

(1) Sell to a neighbor

(2) sell to a private farm

or (3) bring it to a co-op washing station.

Selling to a neighbor is quick and convenient because they’ll likely pick it up themselves (to then take it somewhere else and flip it for a higher price), but not a great price. A private farm may buy the beans, but a farmer may be too far away to transport the beans. Thus, the co-op.

Co-ops have been a major boost to the coffee industry in Ethiopia, especially those producing the highest quality coffee (see what our friends at Technoserve are doing). In the most basic sense, co-ops in Ethiopia work much like they do here. A group of farmers pool their resources (coffee beans) and sell it at scale to coffee buyers like us. The co-ops typically pay ECX market rate to the farmers up front, which is great for the farmer because they get paid quickly to cover their expenses from the harvest.

Ethiopian Coffee Trip

Once the co-op finds a buyer, the member farmers then get a dividend, a portion of the difference between the ECX price paid up front, and the final price settled on by the co-op or union. So, if the coffee market is on the rise, the farmer gains. If the market falls throughout the year, farmers have already secured a fair price when they delivered their product to the washing station.

Ethiopian Coffee - Farms and Co-ops

We visited several farms and washing stations outside of Jima, including Kossa Geshe, Biftu Gudina, Kabena Kossa, and Teencho. This year’s harvest had just finished drying and was bagged up in storage waiting to be sent out, but speaking with the farm managers and seeing where production is completed was a huge learning experience.

Visiting Farms and Co-ops - Ethiopian Coffee

Beyond the educational component, the co-op members could not have been more hospitable. The general manager or chairman of the co-op would introduce us to the dozens of co-op members who arrived to meet us, then hold a coffee ceremony. Roasted dark in a cast iron skillet over an open fire, Ethiopian coffees taste a lot different in Ethiopia than they do at a Zoka cafe, and are almost always paired with popcorn, so we never left a co-op hungry (or under-caffeinated).