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Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Onlus

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Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Onlus

The World in a Coffee Bean

It's three in the afternoon when Andrè Faria Almeida, a young Brazilian agronomist and coffee expert, steps up to explain to the audience of 80 farmers the secrets to growing quality coffee. Invited to Ethiopia by Slow Food for three days of training with the Harenna Forest Wild Coffee Presidium producers, Andréis clearly moved by this opportunity. He knows he's talking to people much older than him, and he wants to come across well. The training is being held in the Dello Mena's public auditorium. The town is on the edge of the Harenna reserve, in the central-southern province of Bale in the Oromia region, more than 10 hours' drive from the capital Addis Abeba.

Andrè begins by telling the story of his father Paulinho, a coffee producer on the Santa Terezinha fazenda in the state of Minas Gerais, where he has helped since he was a child. Comparing his origins to those of his listeners, Andrè explains how he ended up coming from Brazil to the heart of Ethiopia, "where everything originated." He wants to tell his story because it serves as a model for explaining the importance of agroecology in coffee cultivation. In fact in 2001 his father's farm received an award for the country's best coffee. Andrè emphasizes that the decision not to follow the traditional Brazilian cultivation method of extensive plantations was what led to an improvement in quality. "In the middle of the 1990s," he said, "we started planting coffee under shade trees to recreate the coffee's natural habitat. The people who thought we were crazy when we changed the cultivation system were the same ones who came knocking at our door to ask for advice after we won the award."

For about a year now he has been working in Tanzania as an agronomy educator for Sustainable Harvest, an American specialty coffee importer. Andrè explains all the essential steps to obtaining a natural and high-quality coffee, from cultivation to harvest to drying.

He continues: "The fact that you have a special product does not automatically imply that you have a good, high-quality product. Often those who buy coffee tend to confuse quality with uniformity, to the point that an inferior product might be considered better than another one that is potentially superior but more unusual. For this reason there are a few, simple, important rules that should be applied systematically to produce a good coffee."

The previous day, during a tour of one of the Presidium's three cooperatives, he had a chance to see for himself the current situation and the results of the project's previous phases. He was accompanied by Haile Fufa and Shiferaw Ajebi, expert agronomists who have been working for years as government educators in the Oromia region and Bale province. Their presence proved essential to synchronizing this training with previous sessions.

On the third day, they moved on to practical matters. Together the producers and educators drew up the rules of the production protocol, a fundamental tool to guaranteeing the effectiveness of the Presidium. It was explained that the protocol is necessary to guide the producers but is also a contract between the producers and the people who buy and consume their product. The training continued in the field, where a coffee-drying facility has been set up using materials purchased by the Presidium.

Everyone got involved, and every step was discussed, with educators and producers, including women and the elderly, all expressing their opinion. This exchange between young and old and between educators and producers make clear their the desire to put into practice the teachings and to work together to promote the precious fruits of the forest.

In the late afternoon we left the village promising to return in a month, when most of the coffee beans in the Harenna Forest will be ready for harvest and processing.

For more information:
Francesco Impallomeni

The training is part of the European Union-funded project 4CITIES4DEV: "Access to good, clean and fair food: The experience of the food communities." The four partner cities, Turin in Italy, Riga in Latvia, Tours in France and Bilbao in Spain, are working with Slow Food International as part of a two-year program which will organize training activities to educate people about biodiversity and the global impact consumers can have.

Additionally, thanks to the collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico d'Oltremare (Overseas Agronomical Institute), which is running a project with the Italian development agency to promote Oromia's durum wheat and coffee production, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity intends to strengthen the whole chain of wild coffee production and extend the Presidium to new cooperatives in the area.

The Harenna Forest Wild Coffee Presidium is supported by King Baudouin Foundation (Efico Fund), Belgium

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