Green and fair: Cooperatives in Ethiopia

By their very nature, cooperatives can balance economic, environmental, and social needs. The ILO will be showcasing some of its successful experiences in this field at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). One of them involves more than 200,000 coffee producers and almost 200 cooperatives in Ethiopia.

Reportage | 19 juin 2012
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – When an ILO mission arrived in Ethiopia in 1993 to introduce a newly-launched cooperative reform and human resource development programme, it found a country with hundreds of thousands of displaced people and demobilized soldiers.

It also found a weakened economy, food insecurity, rampant unemployment and … a cooperative movement.

This movement was among those bearing the scars from the previous 14 years. Based on past experience, cooperatives were perceived as socialist institutions and instruments of state oppression.

Nineteen years later, all that has changed.

The Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union (OCFCU) exemplifies how agricultural cooperatives improve their members’ capacity to access global markets, as well as their income and social conditions.

OCFCU exports coffee to the European Union (EU), the United States and Australia. All in all, more than 200,000 coffee producers and around 200 cooperatives are involved throughout the country.

It has negotiated fair trade deals with coffee dealers in some of the EU countries, set up coffee shops in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Canada and is vigorously promoting organic coffee farming for added value.

A key objective is to improve the sustainability of the coffee industry by supporting biodiversity, enhancing soil health through the use of organic compost and to promote environmental protection – all issues which will be on the table at the Rio+20 conference.

From Oromia to the rest of Ethiopia and beyond

Oromia’s coffee is organic, and forest-grown, and no herbicides, insecticides nor chemical fertilizers are used in its production.

By working together, farmer members are able to pool their resources. This democratic system benefits individual farmer members and their communities.

Harvesting is carried out by hand. Supervision and inspection are undertaken once a year by BCS Öko-Garantie, a private agency implementing EU-Regulations on organic production.

As a producer of fair trade coffee, OCFCU is able to use the Fairtrade Premium and its social fund to finance community development programmes. It has already funded 28 education, eight health, and 36 clean water projects, as well as the construction of a bridge and the improvement of electrical supply.

The OCFCU has also recently created its own members’ bank, which extends credit for much-needed pre-harvest financing. What’s more, it is promoting eco-tourism in the coffee growing areas as well.

The experience from Oromia is being replicated in the rest of Ethiopia, where a rapid development of the cooperative movement is taking place.

A comparable initiative in Ghana is Kuapa Kokkoo, a Fairtrade-certified cocoa farmers’ cooperative. Established in 1993 by some cocoa farmers, the cooperative drives its strength from the participation of small-scale farmers at the village level.