Author: Matt Hampton(Head Roaster/Director, Rumble Coffee)
Our first origin trip to Ethiopia was all about meeting the people we work with and getting a better handle on how things work in the coffee industry there.
They way you buy and sell coffee in Ethiopia has transformed over the last 24 months. The once protective Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) has opened it up to allow exporters to sell direct to importers. Now the exporter has to prove that the price they are selling the coffee for is higher than coffee of the same quality on the ECX. Under the previous ECX contract, a buyer cannot taste the coffee before bidding and can only see the name and grade. This process made it hard to trace the coffee and allowed dishonest sellers to rort the system. The new system means buyers know what they are buying and can now trace the coffee back to a washing station and pay more for quality.
Our man on the ground in Ethiopia is Israel Degefa. Israel started out with his family’s small farm and washing station. Now he has expanded to 28 washing stations and has finished his own new mill in Addis. Before, they used an ancient Horizon mill that was super slow and in the habit of mixing lots. Due to his family background, he is trying to bring the industry up to date with more modern equipment and better practices.
Israel‘s deep passion to help his growers through education shines through. As they learn how to to grow better coffee they earn better prices. He donates 10% of his company’s profits back to the local communities through building schools and providing health programs.
I visited one of the first schoolhouses he built and talked with the employees. They have introduced higher initial second payments to farmers that bring in quality coffee. They also provide prepayments to people that need it.
The growers get free seedlings and fertiliser to help them boost production. They use leftover coffee waste from the production process to make the fertiliser.
Israel pays his workers more than double the minimum wage. He also keeps a large staff on during the low season when most companies close down. Israel hopes to show other washing stations they can still succeed while paying higher wages and looking after their staff.
I spent a lot of time with Israel’s right-hand man Asnakekas who has the enormous job of quality control and innovation. Two of the washing stations trialled honey processing for the first time last year. It sold out in no time.
They are rolling out the process on more washing stations this year and we spoke at length about an anaerobic fermentation test for this season. All going well, we can taste the results next year
We knew Transparency was going to hard in Africa. But by finding the right people to work with and paying them for quality we know the money is getting to the right people. It’s easy for money to get chewed up by bureaucracy and greed long before it reaches the grower.