Creating a Coffee Husk Market in Ethiopia

Using a market-based approach, TechnoServe is helping coffee farmers and cooperatives in Jimma, Ethiopia, turn coffee husk into a thriving market.

Hulling station employees in Goma, Ethiopia, stand on a pile of coffee husks which will be repurposed as mulch on local coffee farms.

Historically, coffee husks have presented coffee hulling stations in Jimma, Ethiopia, with a serious challenge.

Coffee husks are a waste product created when farmers process unwashed (sun-dried) coffee. After harvesting and drying the coffee cherries, hulling stations use hulling machines to remove the outer layers of the cherries to extract the coffee beans from the fruit.

The accumulation of coffee husk at the hulling stations poses major health and safety hazards, including contamination of local water sources, susceptibility to accidental combustion and pollution of the air when it is intentionally burned as a disposal mechanism. After testing the viability of a variety of business models for disposing of the coffee husk, it was determined that the husk waste was most economically and environmentally sustainable when used as mulch on coffee farms.

Coffee trees thrive on a farm in Jimma where husks were applied.

Coffee farmers like Amin Aba Sambi were eager to use the coffee husks as mulch to help grow healthy, productive coffee trees, but the cost of transportation to apply the husks to their farms was prohibitively high.

In partnership with Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) and IDH, TechnoServe launched a pilot project to facilitate the creation of a market for the coffee husk waste. Knowing there would be demand for the mulch from the farmers, TechnoServe worked with the hulling stations to deliver the husks to coffee cooperatives’ collection points, reducing the transportation costs for farmers to nearly zero.

“Now we are able to receive coffee husks on our farms because half of the costs are covered by our cooperatives through TechnoServe’s facilitation,” said Amin Aba.

Coffee-growing communities as a whole are benefiting from this solution. The mulch conserves soil moisture, suppresses weeds and enhances soil fertility, boosting tree productivity and farmer incomes.

Hulling station owner Abubeker Hamach credits the new coffee husk approach with improving workers’ safety.

The hulling stations also benefit as they are now able to better manage their coffee waste. Abubeker Hamach, the owner of the Nasir Mohammed hulling station, recounts that a few years prior, “our growing piles of husk from coffee processing lit on fire and burned down our warehouse, our machines, our coffee and everything else on our land. We had to move to a new site and restart our processing business from scratch. Through TechnoServe’s program, my hulling station site no longer faces risks related to environmental pollution or the health of my staff.”

Using a market-driven approach, TechnoServe empowered the farmers to address the coffee husk market gap and improve their productivity in a sustainable manner. The pilot has proven to be a success, with nearly 400 metric tons of husks delivered to farmers at two of the project’s participating coffee cooperatives, Duromina and Hunda Oli.