In Ethiopia, Coffee Creates Opportunity

May 15, 2019

Over 15 million Ethiopians rely on coffee for their livelihoods. This is one of their stories.

Editor’s Note: Ansha Yassin began her coffee career in 2009 as a business advisor with TechnoServe. In 2017, Ansha started her own coffee consulting business – COQUA Trading PLC – in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia has a long and rich history of coffee cultivation. However, challenges such as low yields and low export prices have forced many smallholder farmers to abandon coffee for other crops. 

Two hands holding coffee beans in Ethiopia

Growing up in the middle of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I did not think about coffee. Today, my life revolves around it.

Addis Ababa is a huge city. Although as a child I imagined what Ethiopia’s vast coffee-growing regions looked like, it seemed unlikely that I would ever be able to see them firsthand. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and because I had 14 brothers and sisters, my family did not have the resources to travel outside the capital.

Photo of Ansha Yassin

Ansha Yassin, Owner, COQUA Trading PLC

Determined to get an education and interested in life outside Addis Ababa, I went to college to study agriculture. It was there that I met my late husband, Etefa Emama. Etefa was from Illubabor, a coffee-growing area in the Oromia region of western Ethiopia. Over time, he shared his story with me. He told me about his childhood, and about how his community back home relied on income from coffee for every aspect of their lives. He told me about the opportunities that coffee had provided him and his family, including the chance for him to move to Jimma [a large city in southwest Ethiopia] to teach at a university.

"Ethiopia has ideal climatic conditions for coffee production, but low yields, low export prices, and value-chain inefficiencies make it difficult for coffee farmers to earn a living wage."

He also spoke of the challenges his community was facing, including the lack of access to markets and the difficulty getting fair prices for their coffee. Ethiopia has ideal climatic conditions for coffee production, but low yields, low export prices, and value-chain inefficiencies make it difficult for coffee farmers to earn a living wage. After listening to his story and hearing about these challenges, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career dedicated to supporting coffee farmers in Ethiopia.

As a business advisor, I often had to travel long distances on remote dirt roads to reach the farming communities we worked with. 

A can drives down a dirt road in rural Ethiopia

In 2009, I started working with TechnoServe as a business advisor. Over the years, I gained valuable knowledge about coffee quality and was promoted several times, eventually becoming the marketing and quality manager for all TechnoServe Ethiopia coffee projects. I was working in extremely remote regions, going door-to-door to meet with farmers to provide advisory support, with the goal of improving their coffee quality and yields. The work was demanding – there were days when I had to wade across rivers just to meet with the farmers. I often slept in the communities overnight because the journey back was too long and difficult to make in one day. However, I felt that my work was positively impacting people’s lives, and that made all the difference.

In 2017, I started COQUA Trading PLC, a coffee consulting business that links Ethiopian coffee cooperatives and farmers to top specialty coffee buyers around the world. Drawing on my experience as a business advisor and quality manager, I started COQUA because I wanted to ensure that Ethiopian coffee cooperatives and farmers had the technical knowledge to succeed in competitive international markets. Since 2017, I have continued to work with TechnoServe on three separate projects, including the Partnerships for Forests program.

"My goal is to facilitate relationships between Ethiopia’s coffee producers and the international roasters who want to source high-quality coffee."

COQUA has grown substantially since I started the business two years ago. At the beginning, we only had one other employee and faced challenges such as high overhead costs and difficulty accessing international markets. In addition, there were times when my decisions were not valued because I’m a woman business owner. Today, I’m respected in the community and COQUA employs 18 people. We continue to grow and expand as a business and I’m excited about the future of the company.

In the next five years, I want to increase the types of services we provide and offer more workshops for coffee farmers in Ethiopia. I find this work to be immensely rewarding, particularly when different organizations come to visit our offices and want to work with us. When they give us projects, I’m happy because it means that they trust us, and it means that our hard work is paying off.

"Growing up in the middle of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I did not think about coffee. Today, my life revolves around it."

My vision for COQUA is simple: facilitate relationships between Ethiopia’s coffee producers and the international roasters who want to source high-quality coffee. As a young child in Addis Ababa, I had no idea that coffee would become such a huge part of my life – now, I can’t imagine it any other way.

 

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