Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn addressed the world’s coffee elite last month with passion and sincere regard for the millions of his countrymen whose livelihood depends on coffee.
His message was clear to the International Coffee Organization (ICO) delegates gathered for the 4th World Coffee Conference: Ethiopia, one of the world’s leading specialty coffee producers, wants a leading role in addressing the great challenges facing the industry.
Desalegn first underscored the importance of trading coffee at price levels that promote innovation and good stewardship -- prices well beyond mere subsistence.
Ethiopia’s growers cultivate some of the finest coffee in the world. It is incumbent that “he or she receives blessings from everyone enjoying that coffee,” he said.
The 77 member countries that constitute ICO make it the right platform to “insure adequate financial returns for the highest quality coffee,” said Dasalegn.
He also emphasized the role women and youth play in reinvigorating the segment by increasing yield per hectare. First Lady Roman Tesfaye later addressed the group on the importance of gender equity in an industry that benefits from the labor of women growers but suffers from the lack of women executives along the value chain.
Climate change poses a real threat and cannot be left only to government, said Dasalegn. The private sector and individual growers must face climate change together, he said. While curbing global warming is a worldwide phenomenon resilience is local with techniques that vary with each microclimate.
Agronomists and genetic scientists believe that Ethiopia will provide insights essential for discovering the way forward. The country retains 98% of arabica’s genetic stock which facilitates experiments with new cultivars and planting strategies. Genomes, the critical building blocks of coffee, are only now being mapped to enable the development of super parents that will be paired with successful cultivars to insure resistance to disease, pests, rising temperatures, and drought.
Increasing Ethiopia’s yields from a modest average of 300 kilos per hectare from the 320,000 hectares under coffee is the top priority. Tree regeneration projects and clearing land for cultivation “upslope” where the temperaturess are cooler will also be necessary to meet domestic and export demand.
Desalegn’s directive, amplified by cabinet ministers in agriculture and trade, extends all the way down to extension service staff. Field-based classrooms and demonstration plots, locally recruited farmer trainers and self-selected groups of men and women farmers already have trained 200,000 growers in climate resilience. Ultimately the challenges presented by climate change will be resolved by smallholders on the farm not in the halls where Paris climate treaties are signed.
All 900 who attended share high hopes that Ethiopia will show us the way.