These days many coffee drinkers in the U.S. not only know which country their beans were grown in, but often whether or not the farmer growing them used organic practices or protected local bird populations. The fair trade movement has done a good job of informing consumers about where their daily fix comes from -- and the importance of spending more to purchase fairly traded and environmentally sustainable coffee.
Most of this coffee, whether it's grown in Kenya, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Nicaragua or another coffee-producing country, is planted by farmers. But here in Ethiopia, the market is growing for coffee that is found, instead of grown.
Coffee "collectors" in Gima, Ethiopia don't plant coffee bushes, but pick the beans from wild plants. While this might be the most eco-friendly type of coffee production because it doesn't disturb wildlife habitat or use that land that could be used to grow food crops, it's not very lucrative.
But that's changing, thanks to investment from NGOs and economic development groups working, for example, in Sidama, Ethiopia. ACDI/VOCA, an economic development organization is working with farmers to help them learn about wild plants and using organic compost to fertilize them. "If something's not economically viable, it can't be sustainable," said Joe Welsh, Country Representative and Chief of Party for ACDI/VOCA.
The organization is also helping coffee-collectives process their crop better by teaching them to use low-cost drying racks made with locally available materials.
We write this sipping our Ethiopian espresso, wondering how we can continue to help small famers as coffee addicted "latte" liberals.
We'll continue to bring you creative ways across Africa that farmers, workers, and organizations are working toward a more economically just and sustainable economy.