There are few entrances to Guji--a remote and heavily forested swath of land stretching southeast through the lower corner of the massive Oromia region--and none of these routes are short, or for the queasy, in any way. Guji is heavy with primary forest thanks to the Guji tribe, a part of Ethiopia’s vast and diverse Oromo nation, who have for generations organized to reduce mining and logging outfits where they can, in a struggle to conserve the land’s sacred canopy. Compared to other coffee-heavy regions, large parts of Guji feel like prehistoric backwoods. The highland farming communities in this part of the country can be at turns Edenic in their natural purity, and startlingly remote.
Mitiku Elias’ estate is in Kercha, in western Guji. At 55 hectares it is considered enormous by the standards of average Ethiopian smallholders, who typically farm 1-2 hectares apiece. The estate is organized by elevation and retains 120-130 employees during the harvest months. Mitiku was born and raised in a coffee-growing family and has spent most of his life in Ethiopia’s domestic coffee trade. Naturals at Mitiku’s farm will take anywhere from 3-6 weeks to dry depending on the climate, and the sizable processing staff constantly rake and rotate the cherry to ensure equal moisture distribution over the long drying period.
Guji, despite the gorgeous arabica genetics and gifted climate of the zone, has been historically disadvantaged for being so remote. Coffees from here were (are still) often commodified and blended into lower grades as a result of the difficult geography. One way for farmers to survive these disadvantages was by having larger, more diversified parcels, sometimes 20 acres or more, including livestock and large quantities of enset, a relative of the banana whose inner pulp is fermented and sold locally as a staple starch. Notably as well, cooperative unions, Ethiopia’s hallmark exporter organizations for small farmers, have scarce presence in Guji. So estates like Mitiku’s are great examples of coffee prosperity at a rarer, larger scale for this particular zone.
Mitiku’s coffee is milled and exported by Guji Exports PLC, an independent exporter established in 2006. Guji Exports operates its own 150-hectare estate, as well as 2 washing stations in Kercha and Hagere Mariam (West Guji zone), and processes cherry from 1500 additional outgrowers (smallholders) in the area.