It's a special time of year in Ethiopia as the 2022 coffee harvest is about to get underway. After the challenges of the last 2 years and conflict in Ethiopia, a bumper cherry harvest is hugely important for farmers and our own journey for living incomes for farmers. Read this piece from Killian about how the importance of the coffee harvest from Nov 2020...
The harvest for coffee cherries varies by region and altitude and typically there is only one harvest per year, which will last for 2 to 3 months as cherries ripen.
For some coffee growing countries like Brazil, Uganda and Peru the harvest started back in September and for others like Rwanda and Burundi it won’t begin until April and May next year but in the highlands of western Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, where our washing station and farmers are based, it started this week.
Our farming families have been working hard all year tending their trees in anticipation of the harvest and their biggest chance to earn hard cash and a real income. They have survived covid, survived the plagues of locusts which rampaged Africa back in January and survived the threat of ice damage. Climate change has made ice and pest damage far more frequent. Normally ice damage might happen once in a decade but for the past two years in a row (2018 and 2019) our farmers lost up to 20% of their crop to ice. Thankfully 2020 is frost free.
For the next 2-3 months our farmers, including the farmer in the photo above, will comb their coffee trees every morning selectively returning several times over a few weeks to the same trees to pick just the red ripe cherries at the right time. These they’ll bring, each afternoon, to the FairChain washing station.
The price this year for our coffee farmers is 16 Ethiopian birr per kilo of red coffee cherries. Our FairChain premium of 20% will increase that price to 19.20 birr for a kilo of cherries. Seven kilos of cherries leads to one kilo of coffee or about 100 birr per kilo of coffee beans.
This means our coffee farmers will earn about €2.24 for each kilo of coffee beans they produce. This is a lot better than the industry standard but it’s still a long way from a fair price and fair income for our farmers. On average our coffee farmers are earning €400 a year from their coffee, closer to €500 when our fairchain premium is included but a living income is €1,050. This is still a long way off.
One new way we're looking help farmers to earn more is by converting the waste from coffee production into money. Cascara, for example, is a highly caffeinated tea or lemonade that can be made from the discarded fruit pulp of a coffee cherry but it’s a small and limited market.
There is however also the potential to convert discarded cherries into high quality pectin - a valuable ingredient for the global food and pharmaceutical industries.
It’s the reason why one particular Dutch company calledPectcofcaught our attention. They are working on the front lines of food innovation and have developed a method to transform coffee berries into valuable bio-compounds used for the production of food ingredients, biochemicals and second generation bio-fuels (think of sustainable alternatives for arabic gum, dietary fibres, colorants, antioxidants and sugars).
Their technology has the potential to unlock coffee pulp as a source of bio based materials, and at the same time detoxifying the waste stream of the world's second most traded commodity.
At the FairChain wet mill we’ll take samples of the coffee cherries throughout the season and from various farmers. We’ll map the acidity and sugar content of the pulp. Dry it at various temperatures in a controlled manner. Mill the pulp and skin into small flakes. Bag it and ship it to laboratories to evaluate the exact chemical composition.
We have high hopes the composition will be rich in pectin and other valuable chemical substances potentially leading to a second income stream for farmers. Within one harvest season we want to double revenues, adding a sustainable solution for coffee waste and a big leap for farmer income.