After a bushfire, out of a desire of forest conservation, Tesfaye started Suke Quto Farm which is currently Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified. It was possible to conserve the forest by distributing coffee and shade tree seedlings amongst the local community. He recruited 150 out-growers, that replanted the forest. With this, Tesfaye accomplished his dream with Suke Quto Farm: developing environmentally friendly coffee, and sustaining the local community with a consistent income. The local smallholders harvest organic coffee and deliver it to Suke Quto Farm for processing.
Tesfaye Bekele is the man that put Guji specialty coffee on the map. While Guji was dominated by cattle farmers, he sought new ways to make coffee more popular in Guji. “I don’t consider myself to be a coffee farmer. Because, coffee is everything to me, it is more than a job. All my time and energy are placed into the beans that I harvest and process.” Tesfaye Bekele explains.
“I come from a coffee producing family, so during my childhood, I started to work with coffee early on. At first, coffee did not have my interest.” Tesfaye continuous, “The labor was hard, and the days were long. But after several years, I found myself in coffee. This was after my studies, when I returned to my home in the Shakiso woreda, Guji.”
After Tesfaye graduated, he started to work in Natural Resource and Environmental Protection for the government of Ethiopia. “I was designated to Guji and Borena zone (South of Guji). At that time, Guji and Borena were one large administrative zone.” The zone that is now known as Guji, was terrorized by big bushfires that raged for three consecutive years; from 1997 to 1999. The cause of the fires was often unknown and Guji lost a lot of forests.
“After the fires, locals returned to the lands and transformed these to agricultural fields, to produce teff and maize, for instance. As a responsible government official for this area, Tesfaye realized that he could not stop these people from returning to the deforested lands of Guji. He needed to give people an alternative. “I came with the idea to replant the forests and also add coffee trees to enhance diversity. The local community agreed, but they asked me to supply the coffee seedlings.”
Tesfaye took upon him the task of distributing large amounts of coffee seedlings among the community. He rented a big truck and started to divide this evenly. “People started to ask me how long it would take before this crop starts to yield cherries. I answered, ‘four to five years’, they gave the seedlings back to me after hearing this”. Disappointed by the local community, Tesfaye reserved a piece of land – with government money – to prove that his idea was a valid, and healthier, alternative opposed to other crops.
Tesfaye appointed several managers to overlook his nurturing ground, but all found the job not appealing because of the years without results. He could not find people that were eager to continue this, so he resigned and became a coffee farmer. After his first harvest, the community – that rejected the idea of coffee cultivation – returned to Tesfaye. “First, they run away, but later they came back and asked me to provide coffee seedlings. I am very proud of this idea, because all the farms you see today in Guji, are inspired by the Suke Quto Farm.” Tesfaye is the innovative force of Guji.
In 2009, Tesfaye sent Trabocca samples. After cupping his coffee, we contacted Tesfaye to inform him that we found the quality disappointing. Tesfaye did not believe this. He took the next flight and delivered another sample in person. The coffee was outstanding. It turned out that the first sample was not even from Suke Quto Farm. After this memorable start, we have worked together closely to upgrade coffee quality.
As Trabocca, we pay for the farm’s organic certification and grant premiums to the Suke Quto farm if quality standards are met. “Trabocca is our main buyer,” – Tesfaye explains, “We sell our coffee to them every year and they are distributing it throughout the world. Trabocca is very serious about quality control and brought us to the level at which we are now, where we are very proud of our product.”