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.
And yet the unmatched natural surroundings can be a hardship for farmers bringing coffee to market. The majority of the zone can be a full day’s drive (or many days’ walk) from the nearest trading centers of Gedeb or Dilla to the west, which often leaves many coffee farmers with few options, and resulting cherry prices often as low as half of neighboring Gedeo or Sidama zones. The gorgeous arabica genetics of this area, blessed by some of the country’s healthiest biodiversity, is often ruined in transit, or commodified and blended into lower grades as a result of the difficult geography, and one way or another rarely gets a fair showing in the market. Were it not for groups like the Shakiso washing station, owned and operated by Abeyot Boru, options would be tougher for hundreds of small farmers in the Odo Shakiso district, Guji’s central district and its largest. Along with a handful of other local processors, Abeyot and his business are preserving the fresh terroir of this special zone for the world to enjoy.
The Shakiso washing station purchases cherry from 700 farmers averaging just 2 hectares of land each, shared between coffee, enset, and other subsistence crops. After being delivered and hand-sorted, cherries are turned consistently in a single layer on raised beds for as long as three weeks, depending on the temperatures. As is common in Ethiopia’s south, drying beds are typically covered during the hottest afternoon hours, and at night to protect the fragile fruit from settling humidity. The resulting naturals are dense and berry-like, with juicy acids and satisfying textures.