The Coronavirus global pandemic is already having adverse effects on many nation’s economies and Ethiopia is no exception. In an effort to limit economic harm while curbing the spread of the virus, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency. Thereafter, large gatherings were banned, and restrictions on public transport were put in place. Despite this, the pandemic has impacted the nation’s agriculture industry. Within the coffee sector, those most vulnerable are the farmers at the bottom of the supply chain.

To get coffee farmers’ perspective on how the pandemic has affected them, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung Ethiopia (HRNS-ET) spoke to three exemplary and experienced farmers who are part of the projects HRNS-ET and partners are currently implementing. Ademe Demise, who is supported through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) project which is funded by IKI and Lavazza explained that the importation of farm tools has slowed down due to trade partners closing their borders. Because of this, Ademe and fellow farmers have found it difficult to access and apply essential agriculture inputs at the critical stages of crop development.

“Because there is limited access to farm tools, prices have gone up. Consequently our productivity has been affected and we are worried that this will result in a reduction in the quantity and quality of our yields come November and December when we harvest,” Ademe said.

Ademe braving a smile despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic

Ethiopian farmers with young coffee – a critical stage of crop development

The curfew and ban on large gatherings made necessary by the pandemic have also led to a shortage of labor meaning Ademe’s productivity has reduced because he has less manpower. “I planned to stump a quarter of my land but could not do so due to the shortage of hired labor,” Ademe stated regretfully.

Similarly, Tilahun Ayele, a coffee farmer supported through the Coffee Alliance For Ethiopia (CAFE) project, funded by International Coffee Partners (ICP) and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) expressed concern about the impact of the pandemic on him and his workforce. “Not only are the anxieties caused by the pandemic burdensome but a reduction in already limited household income will have immense consequences on our livelihoods,” Tilahun states. 

In response, HRNS-ET’s project staff have made efforts to adapt to the restrictions caused by the pandemic and are working to ensure that support to Tilahun and coffee farming families continues. “Although Farmer Field Schools (FFS’s) have been temporarily postponed for safety reasons, HRNS-ET’s Field Technicians are collectively continuing support of about 4500 farmer households through vital one on one site visits and extension,” says Desalegn Eyob the HRNS Ethiopia Country Manager.

Tilahun tending to his coffee

Ethiopian farming family whose livelihoods depends on coffee

During these individual visits, field staff continue trainings on good agriculture practices and climate-smart practices. Farmers are also encouraged to continue growing other crops for food security and carrying on their Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA)  schemes in a safe manner. Additionally, field officers are also raising awareness about the Coronavirus and how to guard against its spread.

“By educating us to increase yields, incomes, and savings while also protecting natural resources, we are being positioned to better adapt to these kinds of situations. This is a big lesson from this pandemic, and we appreciate the work of the foundation now, more than before,” said Tilahun.

Ademe also echoed those sentiments saying: “We are grateful for the continued support from Field Technicians and FFS Facilitators [farmers who train other farmers] for continuing to visit us and assisting us to overcome the additional struggles we are facing.”

Marea Getaneh who is proudly the first and only female Union General Manager in Ethiopia also shared her views on the impact of the pandemic on the farmers of Amhara Coffee Farmers’ Cooperatives Union (ACFCU) saying: “The necessary protective measures against the spread of the Coronavirus have prevented ACFCU’s producers from delivering quality coffee to the cooperative on time. Because of this, the quantity of specialty coffee that ACFCU exports to the international markets may reduce meaning the farmers who supply our union will get paid much less money than they anticipate,” Marea said. This dramatic reduction in household income will adversely affect the livelihoods of coffee farming families.

Marea is however optimistic that the ongoing support that HRNS-ET  and partners renders to ACFCU will help alleviate the anticipated challenges ahead. Through the CAFE project, ACFCU continues to be supported  to expand and strengthen their marketing outreach so that they remain in business. The storage facility that was built for ACFCU and financed by ADA, Lavazza, The Löfberg Family Foundation and HRNS will also be essential in these times so that the union can stock their coffee while ensuring quality.

Marea Getaneh, the first and only female Union General Manager in Ethiopia

The storage facility that was built for ACFCU as part of the first phase of the CAFE project

“We are grateful for the continued support given to us so that we can find ways to assist our members in these tough times. Despite all the challenges, HRNS-ET is still providing us with market linkages and helping us find solutions to our concerns about our financial situation and debts. Without the continued support, we wouldn’t be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Marea.

Marea at the ACFCU office

As an organization that is committed to improving the livelihoods of thousands of Ethiopian coffee farmers, HRNS-ET and partners remain devoted to ensuring that the challenges caused by the pandemic are overcome. “Although COVID-19 is affecting the economy and threatening agriculture and food security, our team is striving to support coffee farmers so they can continue managing their farms, harvest, transport, and sell produce without jeopardizing their safety and that of others,” says Mr. Eyob.