Sibu Coffee Exporter PLC’s processing site is in Damedabaye town, in the district of Hambela. Hambela is one of the westernmost districts of Guji, neighboring the market city of Gedeb in the southern Gedeo zone.
Sibu’s station in Damedabaye is operated by Keder Hassen Aredo, who himself was born in Kercha Town, the seat of the Kercha district to the south and the site of another of his washing stations. Keder is 45 with 9 children and inherited much of his processing knowledge from his father. At 20 years old Keder began working for himself, and has been buying and processing coffee ever since.
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. Compared to other coffee-heavy regions, large parts of Guji feel like prehistoric backwoods. Coffee farms in this part of Guji begin at 2000 meters in elevation and tend to climb from there. To exit Hambela district to the west, as nearly all the coffee must do to begin the trek north to Addis Ababa, 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.
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 leaves many coffee farmers debilitated by lack of access to market, and cherry prices often less than 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. Famers have historically survived the access disadvantages by having larger, more diversified parcels, sometimes 20 acres or more, with equal emphasis on livestock or other crops for local markets as on coffee. But the vast majority have always been small—2-4 acres only. Were it not for groups like Sibu, who have been investing in the area (and individuals like Keder) for over 20 years, growers in Hambela, or nearby Kercha, would have as their only option the sporadic, rogue coffee collector from Gedeo or farther, bringing rock bottom prices and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
The processing station in Damedabaye is most definitely an exception to the status quo for small farmers in Guji. The operation is not only an important island of commerce in remote Hambela district, but it also subsidizes local sewage systems in the area schools, as well as providing interest-free loans the farmers from which it buys cherry, to help farms through the traditionally cash-strapped picking and pruning months. So, it supports not just a cash center for farmers, but an important local ecosystem, by and for the local people.