Tariku Kipa grows coffee on his 5-hectare farm in the Resa community, located in the Northwestern corner of the coveted Gedeo Zone-- the narrow section of plateau dense with savvy farmers whose coffee is known as “Yirgacheffe”. The Resa cooperative, of which Tariku is a member, is considered one of the best performers in the greater Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU). Resa members may have as much as 5 or so hectares apiece, like Tariku, although the coop’s average member has less than 0.5. These are quintessential Gedeo family farms: small and forested, whose production is often divided between spacious, lofty coffee trees and enset, a fruitless cousin of the banana plant whose pulp is packed into cakes, fermented underground, and then toasted as a staple starch. This common pair of crops satisfies unique and separate needs: coffee for economic livelihood; and enset for nutrition.
This is the first year we have featured Tariku’s coffee as a part of the Single Farmer Lots Program. Coffee is Tariku’s main source of income that he uses to support his family. Ripe cherries for this natural processed coffee were carefully hand sorted and floated to remove less dense coffee beans before drying on raised beds for 15-21 days. Beds are carefully constructed to ensure proper air circulation and temperature control, for optimal drying. During processing, cherries are often covered during the afternoons—a very characteristic technique of southern Gedeo, where the midday sun is searingly intense. Once the cherries finished drying to the necessary 11 percent moisture, they were transported to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to be milled and prepared for export through YCFCU, the umbrella organization that oversees the Resa cooperative.
About Royal’s Single Farmer Lots Program:
The creation of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) in 2008 significantly limited farm-level traceability. The Exchange instituted a nationalized system of purely empirical quality analysis. This was achieved by anonymizing coffee deliveries to government-run sensory analysis hubs throughout the country. In these labs, samples would be cupped and the entire lot would then be profiled by region and grade only, for internal auction to exporters. Where all of this backfired was in relationship markets: longtime microlot buyers, like Royal, could risk losing access to very established producer partnerships as their coffees were blinded in the Exchange; and, enterprising coops, unable to show their coffees directly to buyers, found it more difficult to find their coffees a consistent home for the highest value.
In response, Royal, with support from select cooperative unions, led the formation of the Single Farmer Lots Program. The goal was to break off single farmers’ coffees from the larger cooperative blends sold through the ECX, taking custody of these precious coffees through a direct sale. The program is a unique micro-channel of almost unprecedented specificity in coffee supply from Ethiopia. Farmers with the drive and means to sell direct are supported by Royal, and, in turn, our most enthusiastic buyers of Ethiopia coffee have access to a portfolio of single-farm lots, un-diluted by the typical cooperative- and exporter-level consolidations. The Single Farmer Lots Program represents a very sweet end to a chaotic recent chapter in Ethiopia’s coffee history, and we think it’s a model for what ought to be a generation of start-up relationship farming in Ethiopia’s world-famous southern zones.
Annual farm visits from Royal CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer and regular communication with farmers through Haile Andualem, Royal’s representative on the ground in Ethiopia, has been an essential component for ensuring that farmers and washing stations are following strict farm management and post-harvest protocols. The results have been increasing cup quality and higher returns for the individual producers that Royal has come to count on for great coffee year after year.