Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, but that is a long story and definitely one for another time! However, I do think this is a significant statement and completely relevant to what I am going to be talking about.
So, as I said, Coffea Arabica aka coffee, originates in Ethiopia specifically in the south-west highlands. Coffee trees have grown in the wild there for centuries. The environment is simply perfect for the trees to grow naturally, without needing anything else, unlike almost every other coffee growing country.
SO, WHAT DOES FOREST COFFEE MEAN?
In contrast to plantation coffee where land is cleared and planted with coffee and managed for yield, forest coffee is what you are most likely to envisage when you hear the term ‘wild’ coffee. It is in the ancestral forests of Ethiopia where this wild coffee is harvested from the trees growing there. Forest coffee is defined by the non-profit organisation Partnerships For Forests as: “coffee that grows naturally in primary forests that have not been disturbed or damaged by human interference”. In reality, however, although no management of the surrounding vegetation happens, some slight removal of undergrowth removal does happen purely to help access the coffee trees.
Most forest coffee is more than likely to be ‘semi-forest’ coffee. Partnerships For Forests defines semi-forest coffee as: “coffee that grows in forests that are semi-managed by humans (i.e. opening up canopies, clearing weeds etc.) but maintain a minimum of 50% canopy cover”
THE FUTURE OF FOREST COFFEE
Ethiopia has one the fastest growing populations in the world and today there are around 115 million people living there. As is always the case, such growth is never great for the environment and it comes with more need for farmland which in turn causes deforestation. This demand, along with the demand for fuelwood has unfortunately caused the loss of a third of Ethiopia’s natural forest in the last 40 years.
There is good news though, as there are a number of initiatives and non-profit organisations that are working with the Ethiopian government to protect these forests and at the same time safeguard the genetic resource of coffee seeds in their original habitat. These initiatives also help the farmers living in the surrounding area of the forests.
OUR FOREST COFFEE from the Bench Maji Region
Our first forest coffee we are introducing comes from the Bench Maji zone in the south west of Ethiopia within the Bench Maji forest. The coffee here is harvested from the trees growing in the forest with no management of the surrounding vegetation.
This coffee is known as forest coffee and the forests were not owned by anyone until the government took the decision to protect them. So, the farmers around the forest worked with the government bodies and have become cooperatives that ‘own’ the coffee inside the forest. Here, the WCC (Wild Coffee Conservation) project and the PFM (Participatory Forest Management) works alongside the cooperatives in order to protect the forests, the coffee trees, and the farmers livelihoods all in a sustainable manner.
THE AMAN COOPERATIVE
Our coffee comes specifically from the Aman Cooperative which is one of 65 Cooperatives under Bench Maji Forest Coffee Producer Farmers’ Cooperative Union Ltd (BMFCU) & is also one of its Founding Members in 2005. The people in the cooperative are part of the Benc’h Tribe/People are indigenous people producing coffee in South Bench Woreda. The ancient ancestors of the Benc’h People also handed over forest land & coffee plants to the new generation.
In their culture, cutting down trees is believed to be not only destroying coffee but also killing a person. In the past a person caught destroying a tree would have to pay 7 of his cattle for each tree destroyed. In present day, the Government imprisons a person when charged of cutting down a reserved forest tree.
Though Benc’h people have preserved this area for years, expansion of nearby towns, as mentioned above, has had a negative impact on the environment since the late 1990s. However, since the establishment of the union in 2005, farmers are now aware that they should protect their existing environment; and now carry out conservation work.
This coffee is must try!
Grab your bag now and look out for our next forest coffee coming up!