The creation of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) in 2008 significantly limited farm-level traceability. In a noble effort to reduce nepotism and fraudulent marketing by bad actors in the chain (both of which directly hurt farmers’ chances in the market), the Exchange instituted a nationalized system of purely empirical quality analysis. This was achieved by anonymizing coffee deliveries to government-run sensory analysis hubs throughout the country. In these labs, samples would be cupped and the entire lot would then be profiled by region and grade only, for internal auction to exporters. Where all of this backfired was in relationship markets: longtime microlot buyers, like Royal, could risk losing access to very established producer partnerships as their coffees were blinded in the Exchange; and, enterprising coops, unable to show their coffees directly to buyers, found it more difficult to find their coffees a consistent home for the highest value.
In response, Royal, with support from select cooperatives, led the formation of the Single Farmer Lots Program
, in order to break off single farmer lots from the larger cooperative blends sold through the ECX, taking custody of these precious coffees through a direct sale. The program is a unique micro-channel of almost unprecedented specificity in coffee supply from Ethiopia. Farmers with the drive and means to sell direct are supported by Royal, and, in turn, our most enthusiastic buyers of Ethiopia coffee have access to a portfolio of single-farm lots, un-diluted by the typical cooperative- and exporter-level consolidations. The Single Farmer Lots Program
represents a very sweet end to a chaotic recent chapter in Ethiopia’s coffee history, and we think it’s a model for what ought to be a generation of start-up relationship farming in Ethiopia’s world-famous southern zones.
Annual farm visits from Royal CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer and regular communication with farmers through Haile Andualem
, Royal’s representative on the ground in Ethiopia, has been an essential component for ensuring that farmers and washing stations are following strict farm management and post-harvest protocols. The results have been increasing cup quality and higher returns for the individual producers that Royal has come to count on for great coffee year after year.
Mekonisa Zelelu Ararso, at 58 years, is a returning participant farmer and an important figure in the Single Farmer Lots Program
. This year we’re thrilled to have a naturally processed lot, fully sundried by the Addis Ketema cooperative, of which Mekonisa is a member. Addis Ketema, and Mekonisa’s home, are found in the Wenago district of the coveted Gedeo Zone-- the narrow section of plateau dense with savvy farmers whose coffee is known as “Yirgacheffe”. Wenago is a small district that sits between Dilla, the mighty university city and coffee transit hub at the northern tip of Gedeo, and Yirga Chefe, in the heart of the zone, whose diminutive stature holds back none of its legendary global presence.
Mekonisa is an accomplished individual, even by the standards of Gedeo, whose dense farming and processing landscape has a reputation for competitive farmers. He has earned model farming awards at local and state levels for working with the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU) to pioneer single farmer exports; the efforts of which helped like-minded farmers throughout Yirgacheffe’s union achieve direct sale and see their coffees priced and roasted with just about unprecedented transparency. In addition, Mekonisa educates his children to a college level and will soon be processing his own harvests. Much respect.