Telamo is one of the primary cooperatives of the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU), one of Ethiopia’s most robust exporting bodies. SCFCU is comprised of 53 coffee cooperatives, many with multiple washing stations, and includes 80,000 member households. Coffees here are earlier than in the far south, delicate and citric when washed, and syrupy and compote-like when natural processed.
There are 2898 farmer members in the Telamo cooperative, who average less than one full hectare of cultivation apiece. Coffee in Sidama’s northern Shebedino district is the primary cash crop for nearly all farmers, as is common throughout Ethiopia’s southern producing regions, although vegetables, particularly root vegetables and tubers, are produced for subsistence and local sale, typically along with enset, a fruit-less relative of the banana tree whose inner pulp is scraped and packed, fermented, and then toasted as a staple food.
Telamo, as part of a well-established cooperative union, carries out activities that often go unnoticed but are crucial for small farms, including training farmers in best organic practices and investing in basic infrastructure needs like road improvements and establishing local warehouses. Telamo has four washing stations within the coop and a fifth site for natural processing, so infrastructure is a constant investment. SCFCU as a whole focuses on establishing a certification process for local cooperatives, creating micro-credit for farmers and investing in social programs on a larger scale. Environmental training programs, healthcare initiatives, life insurance, and educational opportunities are just some of the ways SCFCU strives to improve the quality of life for coffee farmers and their families.
Telamo was founded in 1975 and functioned independently, as did many coops and processing groups back then, for lack of a greater export network. This lasted until the late 90s for many coops, and cherry procurement country-wide was largely via a system of local collectors and buyers, who would then deliver consolidated cherry to processors or export auctions. The formation of cooperative unions allowed for voting power and higher farm returns from the direct exportation that unions would be capable of. Certifications, as well, easily earned by the organic methods of Ethiopia’s smallholders and a conscious business plan, could be secured for price protection and marketing purposes, helping vast populations of smallholders gain small but meaningful leverage in the global marketplace that remains to this day.