The vast majority of Ethiopian coffee is grown by small-holder farmers using natural, organic methods. The coffee they produce is not certified organic, but is grown using natural soil conditioners and without the use of chemicals: most coffee is grown using natural methods, cared for and nourished as it has been for centuries in Ethiopia.
Certifying coffee as organic is a time-consuming and often very expensive process that the majority of small-holder famers will never be able to achieve. The exception are those farmers that are well-organized in coffee farmer cooperatives that in turn belong to a union of coffee farmers’ coops and therefore have the know-how, the contacts, the language, and access to funds to make organic certification a reality.
This poses dilemmas for buyers that are trying to do the right thing for people and the planet. Do we buy coffee from a particular cooperative because it is certified organic, when neighboring farmers may use the exact same organic methods, but are not certified? Do we avoid all coffee that is not labeled as organic and exclude the farmers that have the least access to the technical skills and finances to get certified? How do we explain to customers in the US who want the security of certified organic, that there are many types of wonderful coffees in Ethiopia that are grown organically, but that will never be certified and labeled organic? What do we call coffee that we know to be organic but will probably never be certified as organic?
One example of the dilemmas that face us on this trip!