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Coffee Culture

The concept of terroir in Ethiopia

Belco's criteria

The notion of terroir is a very complex one in the context of a Country like Ethiopia, where there is no such thing as the Geographical Indication system. Therefore, talking about terroir in Ethiopia relies on the vision and appreciation of the person manipulating this concept. At Belco, as part of the work carried out in the Agency based in Addis Abeba, they apply simple and verifiable criteria to talk about terroir. They are compelled by the data available and they are very likely to refine even further the areas they call terroir.

Initially, they are seeking a common history, a common origin of know-how and techniques.

As we understand it, this criteria is such that the terroir generally does not cover more than one or two woreda (districts), which means a radius of about 50 km. For instance, in Anfiloo and Gidaamii, the origin of the coffee production is located in Waabaa. The farmers who developed the coffee culture in the region are for the most part originally from Waabaa. They moved with their traditions, priduction techniques and seeds that they took from Waabaa's forests. They moved along with the growing market demand and the demographic increase with the cultivation of new lands.

This leads us to the second point: a common origin for the varieties used.

Historically, Ethiopian farmers used to collect their coffee seeds in the nearby wild forest, at the foot of the "mother trees", which turns out to be true even in places where forests no longer exist, like in Harrar in the Badano woreda, where the forest Ija Bunna disappeared. This does not mean we only have one variety, because these forests house hundreds and even thousands of varieties.

These varieties will then evolve differently according to the place where they are planted with the variation of solis, orientation and altitude. Which means that within a same terroir, we have a whole series of micro-climates that can gather different criteria: a forest, a valley, a crest, a slope,a mountain.

Those micro-climates will give a particular signature to each coffee, behind a character shared by them all.

 The techniques of forest coffee production are very sensitive to bio-climatic variations, and the agro-forestry systems evolve in a very clear way, just a few kilometers away depending on the altitude, soil, etc.(sometimes even at plantation level).

Ethiopian terroirs are abundant and different, but this diversity is threatened by the distribution of a few seeds, selected and improved by the Jimma Research Center and by the ECX appellations (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange - Ethiopian coffee stock exchange) like Sidamo, Jimma etc. that would tend to standardize the culture techniques and profiles.The disappearence of wild coffee plantation forests also represents a threat for the diversity of varieties.

The logo "Forest Coffee" is the new logo of Belco for the selection of forest coffees and represents the work carried out by Belco to identify and preserve these terroirs, their biodiversity and the agro-forestry farming system.      

A human community, a relatively restricted and homogeneous space, a common origin of the varieties, a common origin of growing techniques, a micro-climate panel that is likely to evolve in a terroir as we accumulate knwoledge about the place.