Ethiopian forest coffee: from average product to premium brand

Coffee from the forests of Ethiopia still finds few buyers on the international market. Better quality standards and marketing are aiming to change that.

166 liters - that's how much coffee Germans drink on average in a year. The world's largest producer of the popular Arabica variety is Ethiopia. Coffee makes up around a third of the country's total export volume, and around a sixth of the population lives from growing or trading caffeinated beans. Almost half of Ethiopian coffee grows wild in forests. However, this “forest coffee” so far has not drawn many buyers on the international market.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been working in Ethiopia on behalf of the Partnerships for Forest programme since 2018. Together with smallholders organized in cooperatives, it is working on establishing forest coffee on the international market.

But there are still a few challenges: The quality of the forest coffee fluctuates because the wild beans often have different ripeness and are not properly processed after the harvest. Small farmers have difficulties selling coffee at a profit. At the same time, the natural forests, whose shade is indispensable for forest coffee, are endangered by agriculture and settlement construction. Nevertheless, in terms of taste and its completely organic production, forest coffee is considered a product with great potential for international customers.

In order to exploit this potential, GIZ is supporting the cooperatives with training in the first step. More than 10,000 people have been trained in harvesting and processing methods. With these measures, the smallholders were able to improve the quality of the coffee and increase their income by more than a quarter. The federal company arranges contacts between cooperatives and dealers for connection to the market. The export prices for forest coffee have risen by five percent. GIZ is also advising the cooperatives on how to acquire organic and fair trade seals: 28 cooperatives have already acquired corresponding certificates.

The forest coffee is to be built up as a premium brand in the long term, with a transparent and efficient supply chain. This also creates incentives to protect the Ethiopian natural forest in order to harvest a special and attractive coffee there.

Partnerships for Forests is an eight-year programme (2015- 2023), funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). It aims to catalyse private sector investment into forests and sustainable land use. The programme’s main focus is to support the development of forest partnerships between private sector companies, public sector actors and local communities that work towards achieving shared value from sustainable forests and land use.

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