There are few entrances to Guji--a distant and 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.
Hambela Wamena, the district of Guji that borders southern Gedeo Zone (also known as Yirgacheffe) is as high in elevation as its neighbor and boasts coffees equally stunning, though uniquely different. In order to exit this part of Guji to the west, 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.
Ashenafi Werasa’s processing station is in Derkidame town, due east from the southern Gedeo city of Gedeb. Historically even this part of Guji could be a full day’s walk from the nearest trading centers of Gedeb or Dilla, 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.
Natural processing in Hambela Wamena, as it is throughout Ethiopia’s high southern plateau, is painstaking, constant work. After ripe cherries are picked and delivered to processing, they are hand-sorted for perfect ripeness, and to remove foreign matter and defects. Once cherries make it to the drying tables, it is a 2-3 week process of careful turning and temperature management to ensure even sun and air exposure, minimizing the chance for mildew. Cherry is covered between noon and 3pm during the day’s peak temperature, to prevent any possible damage from the searing high-altitude sun.
In Guji, single-family farms can be large, 10-20 hectares, and diversified into livestock and other crops for local trade. However, like the rest of southern Ethiopia’s coffeelands, the vast majority of farms selling to Ashenafi Werasa are small—2-3 acres only. Notably as well, cooperative unions, Ethiopia’s hallmark exporter organizations for small farmers, have little to no presence in Guji. Were it not for private washing stations like Ashenafi’s, local growers would have far fewer options for high returns for their harvest.