There are few entrances to Guji--a distant 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.
This coffee is produced by various smallholder farmers throughout the Derkidame community, in the district of Hambela Wamena, which starts at the border of Gedeo zone (also known as Yirgacheffe) and runs southeast toward Shakiso. Historically even this part of Guji could be a full day’s walk from the nearest trading centers of Gedeb or Dilla to the west, which left many coffee farmers debilitated by lack of access to market, and cherry prices often less than half of neighboring Gedeo or Sidama zones. Farms tend to be very small and are traditionally diversified between coffee and subsistence crops, and grown with organic methods.
Coffee farms in this part of Guji are extremely high in elevation, even for Ethiopia. To pass from Hambela Wamena district to Gedeo Zone, as nearly all the coffee must do to begin the trek north to Addis Ababa, one regularly reaches heights of 2600 meters or higher, and yet the scenery remains as fertile and bustling as anywhere. The highland farming communities in this part of the country can be at turns Edenic in their natural purity, and startlingly remote.
This coffee is processed 30 kilometers east from Derikidame, in the Benti Nenka community. Sisay Bekele is the station manager and employs 130 people during harvest time to manage the intake of cherry and processing. Natural process coffee is hand-sorted and cleaned upon arrival to the processing site; once cleaned, cherry is sun-dried on raised mesh beds for 2-3 weeks, receiving careful rotation to allow for even dehydration.