The third week in Ethiopia, I had a chance to go South to the Sidama area, to look at some new projects with Technoserve. The majority of our Ethiopian coffee purchased last year was from washing stations Technoserve helped establish, or helped training.
Around noon, we arrived in Shashamane, where we picked up Tsenge, the business advisor for Technoserve in the area. As a business advisor, he is responsible for training and follow-up of washing stations. Before sundown that day, we had met with a new cooperative called Dekaya - their pulping equipment was at this time not yet installed, but I got to learn how all the washing stations are using vetiver grass to clean their waste water. The method is very simple, and surprisingly effective! We spent the night in Hawassa, and the next morning we started driving further south. That day, we covered 1400 kms on rough roads, or sometimes no roads. I got to see the topography of the very highest highlands of Ethiopia, at more than 3000 meters above sea level. In the end, we ended in Worka, from where we walked to another new cooperative called Bulga. On our return, we passed over the Benssa mountains, where 49th’s Sidamo Benssa we had on the menu earlier this year comes from.
On our final day in the south, we headed to Fero. It was nice to finally meet someone we are currently buying from, and we talked about many things - both coffee business in Ethiopia, and about 49th and Canada. One of the most interesting challenges for cooperatives is the cherry prices. Encouraging producers to keep a buffer and maintaining a margin isn’t always easy, but we talked a fair amount about the differentiation between commercial and specialty coffees. I was also impressed by the effort Fero has made only since last year in creating composting of pulp and skin, and creating a lagoon for waste water with vetiver grass for filtration. Since harvest was just starting, we will have to wait a bit to have a chance to try this year's harvest, but now we are really looking even more forward to it!