Just a few miles out of Yirgacheffe, you’ll find one of G & F’s washing stations in an area called Borboya. Gizaw Alemayehu, the owner of the company, established this 3.2-hectare washing station in 1997. The son of a coffee farmer turned coffee trader turned coffee exporter, Gizaw was surrounded by things coffee growing up, and his passion for the bean is evident. He is immersed in its world now, just as he has been ever since he was a young boy growing up in Yirgacheffe.
Borboya is in the Gelana Abaya woreda (district) of Guji zone in Southern Ethiopia. The majority of the people who live here are from the Gedeo people group. Like many other people in southern Ethiopia, one of the Gedeo’s staple foods is kocho, a type of flatbread made from the pulp of the false banana tree. These trees have large and wide leaves that provide plenty of shade, and you’ll often find them growing beside coffee trees in this area, along with other naturally growing forest trees.
About 500 smallholders from the hills surrounding Borboya bring their best cherries to the washing station every year. They have small plots of land that sit at altitudes between 1850 and 1980 meters above sea level, varying in size from between 1 to 2 hectares.
Coffee is an important cash crop in the region, and most farmers in the area are already well acquainted with its care. However, to further improve quality, the station only accepts freshly picked red cherries for washing – ensuring that the majority of coffee comes from the farmers in the immediate area (meaning they haven’t spent a long time traveling to the station). Further precautions after the washing stage ensure beans are dried evenly and slowly. This includes raised African beds, shade nets, and regular stirring.
This is where Gizaw’s lifelong experience with coffee and his passion come in handy. Unlike other major exporters who are based elsewhere in the country, he spends much of his time in Yirgacheffe personally, close to his washing stations. He oversees operations in person, making sure that the washing station’s quality requirements are always met.
Gizaw is happy that new government policies are making it easier to improve the traceability of Ethiopia’s coffee, but there are still challenges the country faces as a whole – road issues, telephone and internet connectivity issues, and shipment delays – that can make it difficult for exporters to communicate with clients and ship lots on time.
Challenges aside, he is thrilled that his dream of becoming a coffee exporter is a reality now. Despite his immense know-how, Gizaw’s focus now is on finding new and better ways to improve the quality of Borboya coffee from his washing station. This will help him get a better price for his coffee, benefiting coffee farmers in the Borboya community as a whole. To make this happen, he works hand in hand with his clients, such as Trabocca, to find out exactly what the international market wants, and discover ways to provide it.