Coffee Production Systems in Ethiopia

There are four types of production systems in Ethiopia: forest coffee, semi-forest coffee, garden coffee and plantation coffee. 95% of the coffee production from these systems can be considered as organic, although not yet officially certified.

Forest Coffee

This is found in South and South-Western Ethiopia (Bale, West Wolega, Bench-Maji, Keficho-Shekicho, Metu and Jimma). These are the centers of origin C. Arabica. Forest coffee is self-sown and grows under the shade of natural forest trees. Forest coffee offers a wide diversity for selection and breeding so as to have plant stock selected for disease resistance, high yields and top quality in terms of aroma as well as flavor. Forest coffee accounts for about 10% of the total coffee production.

Semi-Forest Coffee

This production system is also found in the Southern and South-Western parts of the Country. Farmers thin and select forest trees so as to let in adequate sunlight to the coffee trees and still provide adequate shade. Farmers slash the weeds once a year to facilitate harvesting of the coffee beans. This system accounts for about 35% of the coffee production.

Garden Coffee

Garden coffee is found in the vicinity of farmers’ residences. It is found mainly in the Southern and Eastern part of the country (Sidamo, Gedeo, South and North Omo. Hararghe, Wolega and Gurage Zones, East and West.)  It is planted at low densities ranging rom 1000 to 1800 trees per hectare, mostly fertilized with organic material and inter-cropped. It accounts for about 50% of the total production. This production system is on the increase as it is currently being introduced in South West Ethiopia (Kaficho, Shekicho and Bench-Maji).

Plantation Coffee

Plantation coffee is grown on plantations owned by the state (currently put up for sale/privatization) and on some well managed smallholders coffee farms. In this production system, recommended agronomic practices like improved seedlings, spacing, proper mulching, manuring, weeding, shade regulation and pruning are practiced. Only state owned plantations are known to use chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Plantation coffee accounts for about 5% of the total production.

The Uniqueness of Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopian coffee is rightly known as highland coffee by consumers. The diversified types of C. Arabica in the country, growing in an ideal environment ahs allowed Ethiopia to be attractive to the world coffee market. It has a great deal to offer in the way of gourmet, specialty and organic coffees. Ethiopian coffee is rich in acidity and body. It possesses an aromatic and sweet flavor and is characterized by winey, spicy notes and the world famous mocha tastes so highly prized by connoisseurs. Because it has so much to offer, it can be enjoyed as a single varietal and it can also be blended with coffees from other origins to upgrade them.

Coffee Trade in Ethiopia

Coffee has been a commodity here since before 1500. However, frequent external invasions and internal conflicts have had a negative impact on the country’s coffee export history. Coffee export from Harar and Gerri goes back earlier than 1810. In 1838, an export of 100 quintals of Enarea-coffee (now Limu-Seka, Jimma) via Massawa was recorded.

In the 19th century, two coffee types “specialty coffees” were exported as first and second grade of Harari Mocha coffee to London, Marseilles, New York and Trieste.

For centuries, coffee and other goods were transported by caravans of mules, camels and donkeys to the outside world. Today Ethiopia produces some 250,000 tons of coffee of which more than 100,000 tons or 5% of the world trade is exported.