Our Coffee

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The coffee that we consume

The word coffee stands for both the crop and the plant. The most important economic species coffee are Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora, and Coffea liberica and Coffea excelssa which contribute about 80, 20 and less than 1% of the world’s coffee, respectively.

Ethiopia is the original home of Coffea arabica L, and thus, possesses the largest diversity in coffee genetic resources and Africa’s leading producer and exporter of Arabica coffee (Mayne et al., 2002; Girma, 2003). Sylvan (1958), following his thorough and lengthy study, has confirmed that Ethiopia is the homeland for Coffea arabica L. Judging from its definitely spontaneous occurrence in large numbers as part of the natural forests, its adaptability to the conditions in the country, and the phenomenon of its unquestioned indigenous presence since time immemorial many scientists unreservedly considered the highlands of Ethiopia and their southerly projections to the lower Sudan as the centre of the nativity of the widely grown species coffee; Coffea arabica L.. Berthaud and Charrier (1988) further testify the fact that Coffea arabica L. is wild only in Ethiopia.

Place of Coffee in the Livelihood of Ethiopians?

Today coffee Coffea arabica L. plays a vital role in the economic, social and medicinal life of human society. From the economic point of view coffee stands next to none and to petroleum in the world market of food and non-food crops, respectively. Coffee is being produced in some 80 countries spread over 4 continents (Asia, Africa, America and Australia) and Brazil is the leading Arabica coffee producing country of the world. It is a global commodity and a major foreign exchange earner in many developing countries including Ethiopia (Tadesse and Feyera, 2008). Ethiopia largely depends on coffee as a major earner of the economy. It accounts on average for about 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 10% of total agricultural production and 41% of total export earnings for the past few years (Worako et al., 2008). Over 25% of the populations of Ethiopia, representing 15 million people, are dependent on coffee for their livelihood. This includes eight million people directly involved in coffee cultivation and seven million in the processing, trading, transport, and financial sector (Oxfam, 2002; IMF, 2006) with an export sector valued at $525million (Jean-Pierre et al., 2008).

From environmental perspectives, the forest cropping system of coffee has played a key role in rescuing biological resources, and by and large, the soils of the rainforests, which naturally established themselves for thousands of years on extremely rugged, land vulnerable to erosion from total extinction. This is seen in the light of, the positive association of coffee with divers species of forest trees, shrubs, herbs, spices, etc., which provide all sources of wood products, animal and human feeds and additional cash income while coffee is on production. Its indirect contribution to soil conservation should not be under estimated. Its canopy provides shelter to the soil from the falling raindrops and hails and wind. It is highly recommendable to urgently develop a strategy to provide assistance, financial or technical, to farmers who own forest coffee to maintain the environment.

How was coffee discovered?

There are different versions of story about the discovery of coffee use. One of the oldest versions of story, as reported by Wellman (1961), is about the Arabian goatherd boy, Kaldi. The story narrates that, “one day, Kaldi found his goats full of energy, dancing, playfully chasing each other and bleating loudly after eating the fruits and branch tips of a certain bush, to wit coffee. He was so curious and decided to try the red ripe fruits for himself and, to his delight, his fatigue quickly faded and he was so refreshed and greatly stimulated as to dance along with his goats in the Arabian hills. It so happened that a drowsy monk was passing by and admired the wakeful herd boy and talked with him. Kaldi told him his secret and asked the monk to try the fruits. The monk then ate the fruits, seeds and all, and was quickly a better man because he was reinvigorated and could pray longer without sleepiness. This soon became not only a fad but of a great value to the most faithful in Mecca, and spread to the other parts of the world where the faithful prayed.”

How come coffee is being produced in several countries?

The early history of coffee discovery and distribution from Ethiopia to the rest of the world is possibly most interesting and romantic. One of the most interesting thing in the history of coffee is, perhaps somewhat legendary, is the story of its introduction into that region of Arabia called Yemen. It is well documented by Wellman (1961) that during the latter part of the Sassanid Dynasty of Persia (currently called Iran), there was an invasion of Yemen. It was one of the invasions that occurred with the slow progress of the conquerors travelling overland from Persia & up the Nile Valley. The armies stayed long in the territory they won, and from it there were forays into the fabulous highlands of Ethiopia. Even then it was a short over water trip to Arabia across the Red sea. During this time the Persians took with them the things that interested them. So it seems the probabilities are that, in the beginning, the first move of coffee outside its native home (habitat) was by these adventurers.
However, long before the Persian Conquerors, there is sure knowledge that the first use of coffee was by the aborigines of the African forest. Marked with its initial departure to Yemen, the secondary dispersal centre (Carvalho, 1988), coffee is now spread almost all over the world and it is being produced in four different continents of the world; Asia, Africa, America and Australia (Table 1).

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Ethiopia being the centre of origin and diversity of Coffea arabica L., it is assumed that coffee is cultivated for relatively longer duration compared to most coffee growing countries of the world. Coffee was reported grown around Harar in 850 AD (Clifford and Wilson, 1985). The diversification of the crop to the region from the centre of origin may probably be due to mobility of people for religious purposes, trade and other missions, or it could be a re-introduction from Yemen in the case of Haraghe.
Coffee distribution throughout the country can be put into two different categories based on the level of production.

1. Major coffee growing regions in Ethiopia include Kaffa, Illubabor, Wellega, Sidamo, and Hararghe.
2. Minor coffee growing regions include Showa, Northern and Southern Omo, Gojam, Gondar and Wello.
In general, coffee is being produced almost in all regions of Ethiopia and more than 4% of the country’s cultivable land is covered with coffee. The largest contribution comes from the South and South Western region including Bonga where Lewi Coffee and Spices farm is located.

Coffee is produced in many places of Ethiopia that range in altitude from 550 to 2750 m.a.s.l. The bulk of Coffea arabica is produced in the eastern, southern and western parts of Ethiopia, with altitudes ranging from 1300 to 1800 m.a.s.l. (Aklilu and Ludi, 2010). Gale (2009) estimated that from the total Ethiopian coffee production about 10% is obtained from forest coffee systems, 35% from semi-forest coffee systems, 35% from garden coffee systems and 20% from plantations. The total area coverage of coffee is estimated to be around 800,000 hectare which accounts for 3.14% of the country’s total area under crop cultivation of which about 95% is produced by 1.2 million small-scale farmers. At present, Ethiopia exports 170,000 tons and the domestic consumption is estimated to be about 50% of the total production (Esayas, 2009; Aklilu and Ludi, 2010). The annual coffee production is normally in the range of 300,000-330,000 tones, which is about 600 kg/ha. Although Ethiopia is known to be the first in Africa in terms of coffee production and eighth major supplier of the global market, its share accounts for only 3% of the global coffee trade. This calls for transition to more dynamic and innovative approaches that can adapt more easily to changing market signals (Baumann, 2005). According to ICO (2008) annual production of Ethiopia is on an increasing trend from 3,693,000 bags in 2002 to 5,733,000 bags in 2007. The volume of production and the contribution of each growing region grew by far and the total area covered by coffee has reached 800,000 ha.

What makes Lewi Coffee and Spice Farm Unique?

Lewi is a farm located at the heart of the Afromontane forest of Bonga which is one of the centers of coffee origins in Ethiopia.

The farm thrives to be a model for other private farms that growing coffee. So far, Lewi has 400ha land of which 260 ha is already covered with coffee under the natural Afromontane forests. In addition, it is being designed for production of endemic spices like that of Ethiopian Cardamum or Korarima (Aframomum korariuma), Long pepper (Piper longum) and many other spices including Indian Cardamum (Elettaria cardamomum), black pepper (Piper nigrum), Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and Turmeric (Curcuma longa). We also have beekeeping which would serve as a pollinator for the coffee plants and provide honey products.
The farm is being run with due and positive consideration for the ecology of the area. As per our baseline study, our forest coffee is sequestering lots of carbon dioxide (639.64±286.10t ha-1) per annum (Aticho, 2013) which with no doubt is an immense impetus to the on-going effort of the Ethiopian Government particular and the world in general in the fight against global warming. To scale up this carbon dioxide fixation in our production area, we have also raised and planted many indigenous trees (13,000) on open spaces without disturbing the existing forest. We have a moto “No tree shall be cut without a reason and replacement”. Moreover, cover crops such as Desmodium and Crotalaria spp. are being used as cover crops to control weeds, fix carbon dioxide and add organic matter to the soil upon decomposition.

It is our genuine belief that farming in an area wherein most households totally depend on agriculture should actively involve the local community as this is the best way to make our enterprise sustainable and welcomed by the community. In this connection, the farm currently has a total of 375 of workers (almost equal number males and females) from the surrounding villages of which 350 contractual and rest 25 are permanent. The farm has a well-established norm equally applicable to both male and female workers that “no child worker should be used in the farm at any time for any farm activity and both female and male workers shall receive same and fair salary”.

Since its inception, Lewi farm has been actively supporting community development. To mention a few,

1. Provision of Books for three schools where the children of the farm workers attend their education.

2. Awarding of best performing students from three selected schools (Tikdem, Lemlem and Sheda) grade 1 to 8 (a total of 120 students) with educational materials to uplift their attitude towards education and encourage them to continue attend their school regardless of the many hurdles they may face (early marriage, health and financial problems, etc.).

3. Provision of seedlings of improved coffee (22,000) that are adaptable, high yielding, resistant to diseases and good in quality to the local schools and individual farmers.

4. Transfer of technologies and skills with regard to improved coffee cultivars, seedling raising, nursery management, transplanting, coffee pruning, coffee shade tree management, soil and water conservation, safe and environmentally friendly methods of controlling weeds, insect pests and diseases.

5. Provision of computers to schools so that students and teachers are kept abreast with the application of IT in education.
In view of winning the hearts and minds of the community where we live in and satisfying our future coffee consumers with quality coffee at a reasonable price and yet strongly holding our moto of sustainable production for sustainable development, we strive to do our level best to find ways of improving our production system.