Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ethiopia Coffee Linkages Tour - Forest Coffee at METAD Hambela Estate

Feb. 1-3, 2018 we completed a three day trek, including 24 hours riding in two jeeps, seven people, from Addis Ababa to a remote area of Oromia called Guji and back. We would travel most of the time through the region called "Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples" but the destination, METAD Hambela Estate, is technically in the Oromia region, and the Guji zone. The bottom line, it was far away from the capital on relatively flat and straight, but very bumpy, unpaved roads.

Riding in jeeps with skilled drivers is honestly not too bad. Ruth Ann was so grateful to not be doing the driving as would normally be the case in Rwanda. The hours were just long, but so worth it! METAD estate is a shang-ri-la of a coffee estate, with relatively new (4 year old) healthy coffee shrubs, growing under a cathedral-like canopy of old growth forest. The farm is at 2,200m. The operation also buys 2,500,000 Kg of cherry annually from neighboring farmers in a what they call an "outgrowers" program. They have three washing stations. We visited the one at Hambela, which is a Penagos UCBE 5000 with two depulpers and a demucilager, capable of processing 5 MT cherry/hour.

We arrived at just the right moment to watch workers loading bags of washed parchment into trucks to be taken to the ECX in Addis. We also were impressed by the 250 drying tables, most of which were laden with dark, red delicious looking cherry, and workers were carefully turning them in the sun. Apparently METAD had the machinery to mill natural coffee on premisis, but we didn't see it.

The estate has 400,000 of its own trees on 200 hectares. As we walked through the forest, each "block" was neatly labeled with details like the variety and the planting date. They have produced a "small" crop and Dilnesa Ayalneh, the operations manager, is looking forward to the first main crop in 2018. The tree nursery is equally impressive, stretching as far as the eye can see with 300,000 seedlings. The varieties grown there are 7140, 74148, 74110, 74112, and 75227. We learned that the first two digits indicate the year the variety was introduced. So obviously the 70's were a "boom time" for Ethiopian coffee breeders.

Our 3.5 hour stay (yes - 24 hours of driving for a 3.5 hour visit) included a lovely simple lunch in one of the charming traditional huts the estate has built to house and host visitors. They were even kind enough to turn on the generator so that cell phones and cameras could be re-charged. And, of course, the meal ended with traditional Ethiopian coffee served in the small, bowl-like cups.

The Oromo people, the managers and the workers, seem kind and quiet in demeanor. We learned that Dilnesa has a substantial background in coffee, having worked in Jimma before being hired by the founders of METAD. He seemed almost oblivious to many things that were impressive innovations and "smart" coffee processing to Ruth Ann's eyes. He has obviously adopted a strong continuous improvement attitude, constantly striving for quality.

Innovations and Best Practices
Quality Control
·         Takarik – is one of 5 QC managers at reception. ‘Quality Control’ is their title (as opposed to other CWSs that call them ‘reception staff’) and that in and of itself is significant. On ‘busy days’, all 5 will be present to control quality on in-coming cherry.
·         Farmers must deliver before 6pm. The processing starts at 6 and sometimes continues through midnight. They are strict about not accepting further deliveries after 6pm.

Community Farmer program – also called “out-grower” program:
·         Cherry last year purchased from farmers: 2,500,000 kg cherry
·         Farmers are required to sort on raised tables before weighing cherry. Farmers must take home the bad cherry sorted out.  METAD does not buy it.
·         Cherry is paid in CASH at the weigh station
·         Not clear if collection sites are used or whether all farmers deliver directly to the washing stations.

Pricing in 3 parts
  • Farmers are paid a high price to deliver quality, 18-20 Birr / kg cherry, when 11 bir is the national floor price.
  • If the farmer also delivers high volume, 1000 kg +, they receive 50 cent (.5 Bir) more per KG.
  • Management of METAD decides, after green coffee is sold, an amount to be paid as second payment to farmers. “Out-grower” farmers received 2 bir second payment last year in July – August time frame.
Sun- Drying Tables:
·         250 drying tables, each is 25m x 1.8m and holds 800 kg wet cherry.
·         Innovative wood stands at the end of each drying table to hold the yellow plastic sheets (when not in use).
·         Strings are attached about every 1 meter on the tables which are pulled taut across to hold the plastic sheet above the cherry.
·         Bamboo instead of metal mesh (what is maintenance cost, $ and labor?) Tables with metal screens receive the freshly wet, depulped beans.
·         Numbered tables, blocks have signs

More photos from METAD, Hambela Estate:

Forest coffee.

Dilnesar with our traveling team (l to r: Ruth, Alex, Aaron, Alice).
Kickapoo Kirete coffee - comes back home! (Dilnesar and Alex)
Nursery under shade with 300,000 seedlings.

Drying natural coffee.

Dried cherry, bagged and waiting in the warehouse for de-pulping.
METAD has two products - natural (left) and fully-washed (right).
Truck loaded - going to ECX in Addis.
Loading the truck for Addis with bags of fully-washed parchment.
Photos from the journey (sometimes it's not about the destination):
Getting there.

Make a new friend. (Etsehiywot and Alice.)

Eat local food.

Delicious hot chai served road-side.

Our 2 vehicles and the buses were often the only ones on these roads.

Kids being kids.

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