When Andrè Faria Almeida, a young Brazilian agronomist and coffee expert, was invited to teach 80 Ethiopian farmers the secrets he’s learnt to growing quality coffee, he was moved by the opportunity to visit wild-forest coffee producers in the region where “it all originated”. The three-day training session took place last month on the edge of the Harenna Forest – the birthplace of the coffee plant his family has been cultivating for generations in Brazil – bringing together all of the producers involved in the Slow Food Harenna Forest Wild Coffee Presidium.
Andrè shared his personal story with the farmers, explaining how he grew up helping his father Paulinho on a typical coffee plantation, Santa Terezinha fazenda, in southern Brazil. “However, in the middle of the 1990s,” he said, “we abandoned the standard ‘open’ cultivation and 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.” In 2001 the farm received an award for producing the country’s best coffee.
Today, Andrè is an agronomy educator for Sustainable Harvest, an American specialty coffee importer. He works with producers to explain all the essential steps to obtaining a natural and high-quality coffee, from cultivation to harvest to drying, and emphasizes the crucial importance of agroecology in coffee cultivation.
“The fact that you have a special product does not automatically imply that you have a good, high-quality product,” he explained. “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 which have focused on improving the wild harvest technique and drying process. He was accompanied by Haile Fufa and Shiferaw Ajebi, expert agronomists who have been working with the Presidium and for years as government educators in the region.
On the final day of the training course, the producers and experts worked together to draw 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 establish guidelines for the producers, to ensure the ‘good, clean and fair’ aspects of production, and that in this way it also acts as a “contract” between the producers and the people who buy and consume their product. The lively participation and discussion by young and old and experts and producers showed a strong united desire to put the teachings into practice and safeguard the cultivation of precious forest coffee.
With this proactive mood, the training finished in the field, where a coffee-drying facility has been set up by the Presidium and the group 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.
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. This Presidium is supported by the city of Bilbao.
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.
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Photo: Slow Food Harenna Forest Wild Coffee Presidium