“Duromina” is a word in the Afan Oromo language that describes a blessing to succeed or to become wealthy. It is also the name of a cooperative in the Gomma district of Jimma zone in western Ethiopia. In the present day, Duromina’s washed grade-1 coffee is sought-after the world over. But that was not always the case.
The farmers of Duromina reside in the Gomma district of western Ethiopia, within the Jimma zone. Like much of Jimma zone, the Gomma district is a typical coffee country. The gently rolling hills range in height from 1975 to 2000 meters around Duromina. The local forest trees give plenty of shade. Coffee has grown wild here for centuries.
Farmers here have grown coffee for many generations, and their livelihoods have always been tied to the bean. So, when coffee berry disease struck in the 70s, it was a severe blow to almost everyone in the region. Over the years that followed, the market for coffee from the region slowly dried up. The farmers who now make up the Duromina cooperation were at the point of giving up. Their coffee being deemed unfit for sale and returned to them as worthless. To make any money, they were forced to sell whatever coffee they had to private traders at ever-decreasing prices.
When things seemed quite hopeless, a non-profit called TechnoServe carried out an intervention program in the area. They offered business advice, training, and the push that the Duromina farmers needed to find a solution to their problem. “We did not think it was possible, but we decided to try anyway”, says Tahir Mohammed, the current chairman of the cooperative.
Many were doubtful that change would come about, but, 114 farmers got together in 2010 and formed the Duromina Cooperative. With a capital of just 78,000 Ethiopian birrs, the men and women got to work getting rid of all their diseased coffee trees and planting fresh seedlings that were resistant to coffee berry disease. Everyone was trained on the requirements of specialty coffee and learned the best way to plant, tend, and harvest their coffee trees.
Then, the cooperation took out their first loan and set up their first washing station and prepared for their first new harvest. Change was immediately evident. The quality of Duromina’s washed coffee was top-notch, and buyers stopped rejecting the cooperative’s produce. Duromina’s coffee even won the 2012 African Taste of Harvest award for Africa’s best coffee that year. Since then, the cooperative has gone from strength to strength.
Seeing that Duromina’s coffee now had a market, other farmers in the area signed up, almost tripling membership to 327 smallholders (77 of them women). The cooperative opened its second wet mill in 2012 and followed this up with a third in 2014.
Once unable to sell any coffee, the farmers of Duromina are now able to give back to their community. They are building a bridge that now allows access across a troublesome river. Besides the bridge, they are providing facilities for the local school, and even working with the authorities to bring electricity to homes in the area.
The cooperative now has three modern machines for its wet mills and about 80 percent of its produce is grade-1 coffee. However, Duromina’s farmers produce more coffee than the mills accept. This is because the cooperative has had trouble finding buyers for all its coffee, so it is hesitant to process more.
Duromina’s leaders believe that focusing on quality is the way to overcome this hurdle. Duromina only accepts the best coffee its farmers have to offer, and only accepts as much as the mills can handle perfectly.
Also, the mills add an extra step right after the beans are washed (and before they go to the drying beds) in the form of skin drying tables. This extra 24-hour step helps enhance flavors and provides an opportunity to remove defective beans before the final drying stage.
“We believe that high-quality coffee will always find a market, so our focus is always on the quality of the coffee”, says Tahir. That is probably why Duromina coffee is one of western Ethiopia’s best specialty coffees.