The climb from the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, through Shashamene and past Awasa is gradual, and coffee trees slowly increase in frequency, large, lanky, and dusty by the roadside, many so tall they lean on the roofs of houses for support. Coffees here are earlier than in the far south, delicate, and citric. Sidama has one of the most robust cooperative unions in the country with 53 member cooperatives, as well as a thriving industry of independent washing stations.
The Dara washing station is one such independent station located in eastern Sidama, close to the Harenna Forest preserve in the Bensa district. The 700 farmers delivering cherry to Dara average two hectares each and 1650 meters in elevation. Washed lots at Dara are fermented slowly—36 to 48 hours--due to the low ambient temperatures in the region and the replenishment of cold groundwater throughout the process. Drying takes 12-15 days and wet parchment is often covered during the searingly-hot afternoon hours to protect it from cracking.
Private processors like Dara are a thing to behold. It’s a tough business being a private processor in Sidama, as the sheer density of competition among washing stations tends to push cherry prices as high as double throughout a single harvest, and privates often don’t have the backing of a larger union to secure financing, regulate cherry prices, or bring export costs down with centralized milling and marketing. Successful private washing stations like Dara, then, need to be not only standout quality processors to stay afloat; they must also be excellent business developers with connections and community standing, in order to continue winning the business of farmers and buyers alike, and stay afloat for the long term.