A lack of rain has led some farmers to rip out their entire crop, according to one charity, but experts disagree.
Coffee production in some parts of southern Ethiopia has come to a halt because of a lack of rain, according to a British NGO, although some coffee experts predict a bumper crop this year.
“We had too much rain continuing for three to four months, and this year we have had a long dry period so now we’re worried about the future,” said Mulugeta Tafa, a manager with children’s NGO Plan UK, in Ethiopia.
Tafa said five areas in the south, including Gedio – where some of Ethiopia’s highest quality coffee is produced – are struggling.
“Coffee production is grinding to a halt in some parts of southern Ethiopia, due to a serious lack of rain,” said Sarah Mace, disaster risk management specialist at Plan UK, who has just returned from the country.
“Some coffee farmers have been forced to rip out their entire crop because of the devastating impact of the weather. Many have watched their plants shrivel up and die before their eyes,” she said.
Ethiopia is the world’s seventh largest and Africa‘s top coffee producer. The value of Ethiopia’s coffee exports for 2009 was $316.7m (£202m), according to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), the main intergovernmental body for coffee. Coffee accounts for 1.1% of Ethiopia’s GDP and is its largest source of foreign exchange, so any setback to coffee production has serious implications for the economy. Ethiopia has a GDP per capita of $358.
But Heleanna Georgalis, general manager of Moplaco, a coffee exporter based in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, expressed surprise at Plan’s reports of problems with this year’s coffee crop.
“In fact, the crop this year is going to be a huge one, one of the biggest the country has seen. However, it will mature a bit late since the rain has not stopped yet, so the berries have not had the time to ripen,” she said.
Georgalis said the drought in east Africa has affected pastoral lands rather than areas where coffee is grown, which are in the highlands and are less susceptible to drought.
Playing down the effects of drought on Ethopia, she added: “… for three months, it has been raining constantly all over the country as it is the rainy season. The coffee areas are well watered and there should be no concerns about such an event or crop reduction.
“Last year, the coffee cycle of Ethiopia was [cultivated] on the lower side, where the Sidamo region was heavily affected. Borena and Guji made up for the Sidamo crop reduction and produced excellent coffee. This year, the coffee cycle is on the higher side, and this time Borena’s crop is on the lower side.”
In July, Britain announced £38m in emergency food aid for 1.3 million people in Ethiopia affected by severe drought. Some 13.3 million people in east Africa have been affected by what has been described as the worst drought in 60 years. Somalia, where six regions have been declared to be famine zones, is the worst-hit country.
According to the latest statistics from the ICO, Ethiopian coffee exports in the period August to September came to 3.1m bags (60kg a bag), up from 2.7m bags for the same period last year. Britain is a big importer of Ethiopian coffee. In 2009 the UK imported 1.2m kilos. Last year, this had more than doubled to 3.1 million kg, according to Plan UK.
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