Ethiopia's Current Political Climate & its Impact on Coffee

When I started writing this blog about Ethiopia, it was supposed to summarize the current political climate and how it might affect this year’s coffee harvest. But as I started to research and read about the recent events, it was clear that Ethiopia has much more to contend with than just politics. Ethiopia has a long history of struggle on so many levels, and to narrow the focus on just politics, especially for this coming harvest, would not provide the bigger picture. It’s not every year that the entire world faces the same challenge. But overcoming that challenge has proven to be of utmost difficulty depending on the region of the world where people live.

Covid-19, in conjunction with civil unrest, albeit war, has made 2022 a year full of questions about how and if Ethiopia’s coffee industry will continue to grow and thrive. Thirty million people in Ethiopia make their living with coffee. Whether it’s the farmer, the coffee pickers, day laborers in dry mills, truck drivers, the effect of both Covid-19 and war has a ripple effect across many people. Even with the challenges of 2021, there is reason to be optimistic, which speaks to the resiliency of the Ethiopian people.

The Conflict Between Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Tigray People’s Federation Front (TPLF)

I am no expert on Ethiopian politics, so I don’t know what this fight is really about. I do know this about war. Both sides lose a lot regardless of the winner. Losses aren’t just human lives, but the economic ripple effects can be just as devastating. One of the byproducts of this conflict for the Ethiopian people is inflation. As of December 2021, the inflation rate in Ethiopia may have gone up as high as 35%. With costs going up so much, it will make it harder for farmers to produce the same or increase the amount of coffee compared to the previous year. There is no simple answer to this situation. According to the 2021 USDA Coffee Report, the coffee market globally may experience an 8.5 million bags shortfall for this year. That’s a staggering number. With a lower supply, the only thing you can expect is for prices to rise.

We all know that when inflation hits for whatever reason, it makes everything difficult. I spent a lot of time researching why prices went up. All I could find is that the government encouraged farmers to sell cherries at a very high price. Sometimes even asking for double from what they charged before. This price hike may be the starting point of other price hikes in the supply chain. It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason. And if you consider that people are worried about the war around them, it’s no wonder that finding the catalyst is difficult. In terms of quality, farmers are very optimistic and believe the quality will be better than last year. Hopefully, there will be enough supply to taste the excellent quality expected for this year.

Covid-19 and Ethiopia

Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 has had significant effects in Ethiopia. As a result of so many businesses being required to shut down, they’ve experienced contract cancellations, labor shortages, logistical delays, unpredictable market demand, fluctuating shipping schedules, and even space on shipping containers has been challenging to find. All of these challenges, including war, have strained the Ethiopian coffee industry making next year’s crop unpredictable. But, there is much optimism from coffee insiders. Maybe at the end of this year, I will revisit this topic and take a deep dive into the numbers to see if the optimism was, in fact, an accurate forecast.

If this year’s crop is as good as expected, it truly shows the improvement of the industry as a whole. If something like this had happened 20 years ago, it might have decimated the coffee industry. But with more transparency, organization, support for farmers, a growing population of specialty coffee drinkers, Ethiopia can be hopeful about the future. You’ve heard this before, and I will repeat it; at Sagebrush, we love to showcase the hard work of producers. When it comes to Ethiopia, which is one of our favorites, their coffee represents overcoming insurmountable challenges while simultaneously providing some of the best coffee in the world.

What’s impressive to me is we get to be a part of helping Ethiopians overcome challenges by buying and enjoying their coffee. So, the next time you want to put sugar, cream, milk, or anything else in your coffee, first taste it black. Enjoy it as the producer meant it to be. Appreciate the hard work they put into that black cup of coffee. Then, since we also believe that coffee is an individual experience, add whatever you want. But first, stop and think about the care and dedication a producer applies to their work so you can drink that great cup of coffee.