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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Coffee prices bitter for Ethiopia
Unroasted coffee beans
Freshly picked beans are worth little to farmers

The decline in world coffee prices has led to a crisis for growers in Ethiopia, who describe it as the birthplace of coffee.

More than one million Ethiopian coffee farmers, accounting for nearly 15 million households, have been affected by the continuing fall in the price paid to coffee producers globally.


In the past we had coffee, now the price of coffee has fallen and we have no food. I don't know what to do. I just sit in my home and weep.

Poor coffee farmer

The International Coffee Organisation (ICO) says world coffee prices have fallen by 70% since 1997.

Some Ethiopian farmers are now looking at alternative crops as they can no longer support their families on the meagre income from coffee.

Coffee replaced food crops

Bogale Bersamo is a peasant farmer who is suffering because of the poor prices.

"I have uprooted 200 of my coffee trees. In the past we sold a kilo of beans for $0.55 and our children were in school. I have five children.

Ethiopian farmer
Farmers are pulling up their coffee plants

"All of them are now out of school because we cannot afford uniforms or books. We can't even feed them," he said.

Some farmers have turned to begging to survive. Others, according to Mr Bersamo, have just died inside their huts.

He is in despair about his coffee crop.

" What can we do? We can't drink it - there's no food to go with it.

"To plant coffee we destroyed our false banana trees (root vegetable), which we could have used as food. Now the coffee trees are useless and we have nothing to eat."

The reason is the fall in the price of coffee.

'I just sit and weep'

Bogale Bersamo is not alone. Many coffee farmers have started to uproot their coffee trees and plant edible crops.

One woman farmer, Belaynesh Kumal said she has seven children.

" We are in trouble. In the past we had coffee, now the price of coffee has fallen and we have no food. I don't know what to do. I just sit in my home and weep."

Ethiopian coffee producers
Making coffee the Ethiopia way

It is hard for Belaynesh to comprehend that the price of coffee is set by people outside Ethiopia whose main concern is not the well-being of the farmers.

There are organizations who are trying to help the poor around the world.

Fair trade

The British-based charity Oxfam is one. It is working with farmers in Latin America, South East Asia and Ethiopia.

Liam Brady, Oxfam's Coffee Programme Coordinator says: "It is sad to see here, where they produce the best and highest quality coffee in the world, they receive the lowest prices."

He wants the big companies to commit themselves to a different system for setting the price paid to farmers.

Ethiopia is the leading exporter of organic coffee in Africa and in some areas cooperatives have been set up to help the farmers.

Tadesse Meskela is the general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union.

"Our union is trying to enter into speciality markets.

"The union is a member of the International Fair Trade Organization. It is exporting and selling to members in USA and Europe," he says.

Coffee producers
Sorting the newly-picked beans

Mr Meskela says one problem is that while Ethiopian coffee is organic, it does not have the necessary certificates to prove this.

"We are trying to certify with a company in Germany. But in the immediate crisis we can only appeal to multinationals to support these farmers and assist them to live," he says. Colleen Crosby, who works for a coffee roasting company in the United States, says the price for Ethiopian coffee or the Arabica type is determined at the commodity stock exchange and is based upon the price of Robusta coffee from other countries being traded in the USA.

She believes the solution to this crisis is fairer trade which allows for a higher floor price to be paid for the coffee so money can be invested in coffee farming in a sustainable way.

See also:

20 Aug 02 | Africa
01 Oct 02 | Africa
18 Sep 02 | Business
18 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Aug 02 | Africa
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