It is hard to convey the sense of sublime remoteness unique to the forests of Guji. The sheer natural immensity of the canopy, the heavy quiet of the forest floor, the treetop civilizations of colobus monkeys and thick-billed ravens chatting about overhead. The landscape here is part natural artifact, part testament to human perseverance. The Guji people have long waged all the weapons of custom, legislation, and outright social unrest in the name of preservation.
The Guji peoples’ value for natural heritage expresses well in its agriculture management, too. To win a permit for building a coffee estate, it’s not enough to be organic; the business plan needs to include forest preservation and community investment as well. These days, coffee production in Guji zone is developing fast. Particularly in the form of coffee estates, which, though not unprecedented in Ethiopia’s history, are putting modern roots here and changing the prospects not only for Guji as a name in the global market, but for the hundreds of thousands of remote smallholders here, many of whom for decades have lacked equitable cherry marketplaces in their home communities.
The Sookoo Coffee Farm is one such team, whose 33-hectare organic farm is a property of blended coffee cultivation and old-growth forest. The farm is managed by Dambi Uddo Agro Industry PLS, a very young exporter established in 2018. The farm employs 1000 during harvest months and also produces peas and beans for employees and local sale.
In addition to its own harvest operations, Sookoo Coffee Farm is also an important local resource to smallholder coffee farmers: processing, drying, storage, transport, milling, marketing and exporting are immense undertakings requiring resources and scale, so having a local partner to provide this chain of services is a godsend for remote Shakiso farmers with quality potential. Estates processing and selling local “outgrower” coffee is common in Ethiopia, and so estates often act as washing stations and exporters for their greater community. 33 smallholder farmers contributed cherry to this lot along with the farm’s own trees.
Naturals at Sookoo are highly selective. After a visual inspection, fresh picked cherry is transferred to drying beds within 6 to 8 hours. Cherry depth is maintained between 2 and 4 centimeters only to ensure even dehydration, and all drying cherry is rotated 5 to 6 times per day.