ETHIOPIA birbirsa natural
Region: Beshasha Badiya, Jimma
Drying Station: Birbirsa
Farmers: 80 active members (31 female, 49 male)
Cultivar: Metu Bishari Selection
Altitude | Latitude: 2100 masl | 7º North
Harvest: November 2022 - January 2023
Cherry Price | FOB Price: 5.81 USD/kg | 8.93 USD/Kg
Screen | Moisture | Density: 14+ | 11.1 % | 0.70 g/ml
Packaging: 60 Kg + GrainPro
Notes: Winey, strawberry, lavender, honey
Birbirsa is an example of the classic profile of Ethiopian naturals we love so much! Birbirsa cooperative is part of the Kata Muduga Multipurpose Farmers' Cooperative Union. It is the only cooperative managed by this Union, that produces only naturals, so it has no washing station, only drying.
Perhaps this limitation is due to the physical size of their operation, which is much smaller than all the other cooperatives we visited in the area. But on the other hand, it is an advantage, because it allows them to focus on what they do best, which is the production of naturals. The number of members is also small, only 80, but we also see this as a positive aspect, because with smaller volumes they can better control the quality of the cherry that arrives at the station and encourage a more selective harvest.
The prices received by the farmers in this cooperative this year came very close to what we estimate as a sustainability mark which is 1 USD per 1 kg of cherry, but it is worth noting that inflation levels in Ethiopia have shot up to more than 30% in 2022, so it does not seem that this increase will have a very positive impact on the economy of the farmers, but rather as a help to mitigate the crisis.
In terms of quality, during our tour of the site back in 2019, we saw that the selection of cherries was great, and since then we have been hoping to have the opportunity to buy their coffee. It took a few years, but we were finally able to receive samples of this harvest and, from what we saw on our visit, we were not surprised by the high quality they sent.
COFFEE IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia is an extraordinary and complex origin, probably the most complex. It is also a diverse and dispersed workplace. One must invest a lot of time in travel, cuppings and research, to collect lost bits of information and try to understand its coffee industry, through its culture, history, geography, economy and politics.
Coffee is so important to Ethiopia that it alone supports the Trade Balance of a country with more than 100 million inhabitants. It is the main source of foreign currency income, reaching record sales of USD 917 million in 2018. In addition, it is estimated that 15 million people depend directly on coffee production to survive.
Since Ethiopia's economy is highly dependent on imports, its trade balance is permanently negative, this means that there is a constant deficit of dollars in the fiscal and private coffers. For this reason, there are many actors not related to the coffee industry involved in it, and many others wanting to join. Approximately 40% of the export price is lost in the hands of unnecessary intermediaries, in the production and logistics process.
Since 2017, the coffee industry in Ethiopia has allowed direct sales to importers through washing stations. Before, everything had to be traded through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). The ECX is equivalent to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, but inefficient and poorly organized; where batches are mixed across large production areas and therefore traceability and quality are generally lost or degraded.
90% of Ethiopian coffee is produced by small coffee growers, who deliver their cherries to the washing stations closest to their farms. These washing stations are organized in two ways, either they are bought by private agents or they are grouped in cooperatives. The private agents are exporters and the cooperatives are again grouped in Unions, which function as an “umbrella” organization, providing support in important areas of marketing, production, financing and logistical support.
At Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffees we work only with Cooperative Unions, and not with private agents. This means that we have access to first-hand information when cupping and selecting lots, transparency regarding the costs and finances of the Union, more traceability, fewer unnecessary intermediaries and we generate a greater socioeconomic impact for the coffee grower and their communities.
VARIETIES AND HEIRLOOM
According to the Cambridge dictionary, the word "Heirloom" has the following meanings:
1.- valuable object that the older members of a family have given to the younger members of the same family for many years.
2.- a fruit, plant or seed of a type, which has existed for many years.
An "Heirloom" variety is a plant variety that has a history of transfer within a family or community, similar to the generational exchange of heirloom jewellery or furniture.
From a macro botanical point of view, an Heirloom variety must be open pollinated. The Arabica species is a self-pollinated crop, therefore, from a conceptual point of view, the term "Heirloom" does not apply to the Arabica species.
For many years in the coffee industry, the word Heirloom has been used in Ethiopia, as a generic term to describe a variety or group of unknown cultivated varieties of a particular lot, farm or region, which over the years has been planted and passed from one coffee producer to the next.
Ever since the specialty coffee movement began to grow around the world, there was an obvious need for traceability and information. Although the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) has been working since the 1970s on research and development of new varieties, importers have had limited access to this information to describe the varieties of the coffees they were buying from Ethiopia.
Today, thanks to professionals like Getu Bekele and more, who have been studying the wild and cultivated varieties of Ethiopia for decades, we can recognize and differentiate two large groups of Ethiopian coffee varieties: the regional varieties and the varieties improved by the JARC.
We can say that there are between 6,000 and 10,000 regional varieties and the JARC has developed around 60 improved varieties, which have been distributed among coffee growers throughout the country. These improved varieties address the problems of CBD, rust, cup quality and yield, and today they are widely used in all coffee growing regions of Ethiopia.
For example, if we analyse the Jimma region, we can learn that the improved varieties of the area belong to the 1974/75 Metu Bishari selection, where we find the varieties: 74110, 74112, 74140, 74148 and 74165. The regional varieties found in this area they include: Kuburi, Bedessa, Yawan and Dalacha, among others.
Each coffee region in Ethiopia today has a completely specific set of improved varieties and regional varieties, adapted to the unique conditions of each area.