This exceptional Natural coffee was dry milled and exported by Primrose, PLC. The coffee was grown by smallholder farmers living around the kabele (town) of Haru Suke in Gedeo County, Yirgacheffe region. Most contributing farmers own less than a hectare of land, and they grow coffee simply as a backyard cash crop.
Coffee will usually be interspersed with other subsistence crops, such as sweet potato, mangos and avocados, but there are no other primary cash crops grown in the region. Our partner, Primrose S.P. PLC is a stakeholder in the supplier washing station and works directly with them to control for quality and cultural practices on the farm. Income from coffee is important but minimal for most farmers due to the small size of their farms. As such, inputs are minimal–most coffee grown in the region is 100% organic, though not certified as farmers simply don’t have the money to apply chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides.
Primrose ensures that there are agricultural officers who work closely with each farmer to ensure the fertility of the farm land. In fact, soon the wet mill and surrounding farmers will also be RFA and UTZ certified. Primrose pays more than the market price for a kilogram of red cherry, and those farmers that bring quality red cherry are paid a cash incentive, ensuring higher-than-average overall quality. Coffee is selectively hand-picked before being delivered to the mill collection points, usually within 5km of the producers’ homes.
Great care is taken upon delivery to separate out any overripe, underripe or damaged beans before consolidating with other lots for the road to the wet mill. At least once a day, the collected coffee cherry is delivered to the mill, where it is floated and then delivered to dry on raised beds. Here, it will be thinly spread and regularly turned over the course of several weeks, or until it reaches 12% humidity according to the moisture metre.
Varieties of coffee grown here are traditionally referred to as ‘heirloom’ by exporters–a catchall terminology which often masks the wide assortment of varieties that may be present within various regions or even, within farms. Many of these varieties will have been developed by Ethiopia’s Jimma Agricultural Resarch Centre (JARC), which, since the late1960s, has worked to develop resistant and tasty varieties for the Ethiopian coffee industry and also to provide the agricultural extension training needed to cultivate them.
The dual factors of Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX forced anonymisation of lots (see below) combined with the relatively low awareness of formal variety names outside Ethiopia has meant that the JARC’s work has historically been under-recognised by specialty importers and roasters, but a new book issued by Counter Culture Coffee in the USA (2018/19) has drawn new attention to the topic, and rightly so. It is important to note that varieties in Ethiopia fall within two main groups–regional or local landraces (of which there are at least 130, 33 of which would hail from the Southern growing regions) or JARC varieties.
It is still very hard to tell but it is highly likely that this lot contains a great percentage of JARC 740110 and 74112 varieties, developed in 1974 by the JARC, which are directly descended from local landraces indigenous to the Gedeo Region. Most farmers have a mix of both the improved and the indigenous landrace varieties (inherited from parents and grandparents) on their farms, though research by Counter Culture’s Getu Bekele does show that there is a strong concentration of the JARC ’74 varieties.
Our recognition of these processes as an industry, admittedly, lags behind. Though the argument made by Getu Bekele are correct and salient, it remains difficult to get information from mills and exporters regarding the exact varieties that go into various lots. Mercanta will continue to work with our partners in Ethiopia on this important issue, and we hope that in coming years we will be able to provide more detailed information on the distinct varieties being grown by the farmers contributing to our Ethiopian lots.