OCFCU is owned by democratically organised coffee farmers in the region of Oromia, one of the largest regional states in Ethiopia. The union was established in June 1999 by 34 cooperative societies, representing 22,691 member household's and has now grown to 217 members representing 202,397 farmer households. The benefits of which now reach 1.5 million individuals.
My host, Tadesse, started out life the way many Ethiopians still live today. He would walk two hours each way to school and only owned his first pair of shoes when he was 12 years old – a trade for his family’s goats. He continued at school and then went on to higher education to study agronomy before becoming involved with coffee farmers where he began his mission to improve their living and working conditions.
After a day at Oromia Mill outside Addis, we drove East to the town of Dire Dawa which would be our base whilst visiting the dry processed Harar coffee growing regions. The first co-op we visited was in mountainous terrain nestled amongst sugar cane, banana and guava plantations. The Burka Galeti cooperative has been part of Oromia since 2004 and hopes to be Fairtrade this year.
We then set off to a co-operative so remote and difficult to access that even Tadesse himself hadn’t yet visited - Chefee Jenata. Families had been eagerly awaiting Tadesse’s arrival. They welcomed us with traditional song and dance before proudly showing off their new school.
The coffee from this coop has to make its way up the first 22km of road (or should I say dirt track) along the edge of the steep valley by donkey. Each donkey carrying one bag of coffee parchment (60kg) at a time, taking 6 hours to reach the nearby town where it is transferred to truck. Now I know why this coffee isn’t cheap!
From here we set off to a coop producing Yirgacheffe coffee, Ngelle Gorbitu. Another warm welcome, particularly from the children. The members were again keen to share the benefits seen by Fairtrade, including this school.
Our final trip was to Kilenso Mokonisa and Kilenso Rasa, neighbouring co-ops which are both Fairtrade, nestling in beautiful lush valleys surrounded by coffee trees bearing beautiful ripe coffee cherries ready for picking.
This is any coffee persons paradise, coffee is everywhere, every house you pass has coffee drying outside, people are carrying freshly picked buckets of coffee and you can smell coffee being roasted in it’s traditional way on the pans as you pass through the villages.