Ethiopian Coffee: Drought or Not?

It’s not that large a country, but Ethiopia has a diverse climate system, according to recent reports. The coffee producing nation either has a drought or it doesn’t, depending on who you believe. In the mountains the coffee is looking good, but in the plains to the south, farmers say a drought has ruined this year’s crop. The Guardian (UK) reports this week that a lack of rain in Ethiopia’s south has put a halt to coffee production, to the extent that some farmers were forced to “rip out their trees”. Other trees have shriveled up and died.

The dire reports are coming from an NGO that helps children and families. There are five affected areas in the south, according to this report. Some confirmation does come from another report that 1.3 million Ethiopians required food aid earlier this summer. On the other hand, a representative from a coffee exporter in Addis Ababa reports that those areas are not important coffee producers. The mountainous areas are doing fine, and though late, this year’s crop from the mountains is predicted to be one of the best ever.

She goes on to say that the entire country received rain during the rainy season. Production reports just in show that September’s exported amount was up from the same period last year. As coffee consumers, and especially fans of Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffee and Sidamo varieties, it’s too early to be concerned. But such contradictions in reports are a little troublesome. One group, CTA Agritrade, has suggested a far-ranging program of help to the farmers in terms of building up all the areas in the coffee production chain, from tree health to marketing. One item left off the list was water, which seems crucial. Though land-locked, Ethiopia does have access to a port. Therefore, one area to explore would be working with neighboring countries, also drought impacted, to build a desalination plant in the Red Sea. Whatever the situation of this season’s crop, it does appear there’s lots of room for improvement in Ethiopian coffee production/infrastructure. Since a quarter of the nation’s people are involved in coffee production, some improvements to the industry would greatly impact all Ethiopians for the better.

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