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.
Birhanu Dido, at 50 years, is a brand-new participant in the Single Farmer Lots Program
this year. His farm is smaller for the Program, at 10 acres, but that hasn’t stopped his enterprising nature or quality in the least.
Birhanu cultivates coffee near the town of Worka-Sakaro located in the south-eastern corner of the coveted Gedeo Zone-- the narrow section of plateau dense with savvy farmers whose coffee is known as “Yirgacheffe”. This more remote corner of the Gedeo plateau centers its commerce around the trading city of Gedeb, a bustling outpost that links commerce between Gedeo and Guji zones, and, it must be mentioned, produces some of the most beautifully perfumed and candy-like natural coffees one can find in all of Ethiopia. The communities surrounding Gedeb reach some of the highest growing elevations for coffee in the world and are a truly enchanting part of the long drive into Guji. Worka itself, the cooperative of which Birhanu is a member, is becoming better and better known by coffee buyers and drinkers across the world, thanks to the notoriety of lots like this one.