Rejuvenating coffee in Oromia

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Oromia has continued the expansion of seedling coffee and replacement of decades-old trees. The region is also establishing four khat trading centers to modernize the stimulant leaf business.
In its recent article, the World Bank (WB) said that almost 80 percent of Ethiopia’s 1 million hectares of coffee trees are underproductive because the trees are not trimmed often enough.
The WB article says the quality of Ethiopian coffee isn’t the problem. About 95% of production from the country’s diverse coffee varieties is organic, traditionally cultivated without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Demand isn’t the issue either.
But it questions why is Ethiopia’s coffee productivity lagging behind other leading coffee-producing countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Vietnam? The problem boils down to a lack of pruning.
Shimelis Abdisa, President of Oromia region, said that unlike the preceding trend for the past couple of years the regional administration has given fundamental attention for the bean production and productivity.
“In general, previously, the Ethiopian government was only generating revenue from coffee but not invested on it. The farmer was the only actor on the total production activity,” he said.
The WB said that the low productivity of Ethiopia’s coffee trees poses an obvious problem for the more than 2 million smallholder farmers dependent on coffee production for their livelihoods.
Shimelis said due to different reason including the trading scheme, the farmers’ revenue from the bean have been declaimed that led them to cut the coffee bush and replace them with alternative profitable crops.
“Based on understanding the farmers and the sector challenges, the regional government is acting to come up with a solution,” the regional President said.
“In our region for the last two years we have introduced three major changes on the sector. Basically we have improved the marketing system by creating alternative trading for Ethiopian Commodity Exchange by issuing an export license for the farmer enabling them for direct export which also contributed to reduce the illegal trade,” Shimelis told Capital.
“The new trading plays a key role. It has shown positive results for instance the price of red cherry that was 12 birr per kg in the past has now reached at 30 birr because of the new scheme,” he explained.
The other initiative introduced in the past two years was rejuvenating and replacing the aged and unproductive coffee trees by new seedling.
The regional President said that the coffee trees in the region are aged up to 40 year, which is a factor for small harvest.
“Rejuvenate existing trees by trimming and replacing of the old trees and seedling new coffee trees in new areas has been conducted for the past two years,” he said.
“In 2019, we have planted over 800 million new coffee seedlings, 900 million in last year and in this rainy season we will plant 1.1 billion coffee trees in the region,” Shimelis elaborated.
The World Bank article said that different initiative have been involved to elevate the challenges like Stumping involves pruning older and less productive trees down to just a stump. “This stimulates the growth of new sprouts that develop into new branches within a few months,” it added.
According to the region’s plan, the target is increasing the coffee export by two folds in minimum in the coming few years. “In the past budget year for instance for the first time in the region the coffee export have increased by 17 percent and in this year it is expected to climb to 19 percent,” he explained.
In the coming budget year the export is estimated to be boosted by 25 percent because the seedling that was planted two years ago will have started production.
The price increment at farmer’s level under one of the three pillar of change for the sector has also discouraged the illegal market. The effect on the illegal channel shall contribute to attain the target set for the coming year.
“In the coming up to four years we estimated to expand the export at least by double,” he said.
On average the country hard currency generation from the bean was USD 700 million that surpassed USD 800 million, “for this year that will end on July 7, the generation from the sector is expected to reach over a USD one billion as per the current trend.”
Shimelis argued the idea that the coffee trees are being replaced by khat in some part of Oromia, which is the major source of coffee. He said that farmers supposed to be beneficiary from their agricultural practices so that they shall shift on any profitable activities, “the solution is improving their livelihood and tackling the bottlenecks to keep them on their traditional cultivation, meanwhile the issue shall not be a major concern.”
He said Ethiopia has ample land for coffee, khat, avocado or other plantation, “due to that it is not our concern of replacing coffee by khat. The focus area for farmers is their benefit. Farmers shall replace coffee by eucalyptus tree for economic value,” he elaborated.
“The core issue is improving the price for coffee producers that encourage them to continue on their usual activity,” he added.
He said that the region is also working aggressively to change the market and productivity for the stimulant leaf like coffee, which is the major source of one third of the country hard currency and one fourth of jobs created.
“We are also working to improve the khat market, which is captured by illegal middlemen and profited them rather than the producers,” he explains, adding, “we are strongly working to pushing out the illegal actors for the benefit of farmers.”
To improve the khat market; trading centers are developing at Awoday, Bedessa, Addis Ababa and the other will be in Dire Dawa to which the construction work will commence soon.
The trading facilities will have standard storage area, packaging centre and other facilities on the aim to keep the export quality.
The productivity is also the focus area to expand the production and export.
According to Shimelis, the country is generating huge amount hard currency from khat that is grown by 26 percent for export in this yea.
“Our farming has four goals; food security, export expansion, import substitution and job creation,” he concluded.