Nov. 8, 2023
|Moplaco representatives at IWCA |
reception: Axumawit, Heleanna, Aisha
At the end of October I had the amazing opportunity to spend several days over the span of two weeks with leaders and staff of Moplaco Trading in Ethiopia. It is a remarkable company run by a team of remarkable people, (which is not surprising since great employees are the foundation of any company that achieves success.) The Moplaco staff is led by Heleanna Georgalis, who is a force in specialty Ethiopian coffee, and a wise and skilled international businesswoman.
One aspect that impressed me was Moplaco's unique advocacy for sustainability and resilience via their outspoken and clearly articulated statements on "the good" and "the bad" in Ethiopia's agro-forestry realm. I had expected cheers for Ethiopia's five UNESCO biospheres and promotions extolling the virtues of forest coffee, but Moplaco by-passes all that with two clear messages I have to admit I had not heard before:
1. Eucalyptus tree farming is bad for coffee, bad for coffee farmers and therefore bad for Ethiopia.
2. False banana is a "miracle tree" that is good for coffee, good for coffee farmers and should be encouraged in coffee areas where its virtues hold true.
Eucalyptus: I first heard Heleanna, Moplaco's CEO, mention the issue of coffee farmers switching from coffee to eucalyptus tree farming in a radio interview she gave to BBC in September 2023. She said her company had created and promoted a short animated video to try to galvanize and educate coffee farmers to resist the quick cash that eucalyptus promises, only to find out that the long term brings tragic loss of soil fertility for any and all crops, including the eucalyptus trees. I found the striking and well-made video on Moplaco's instagram feed. [Click to watch.] It got me on board.
The short and memorable video was played at the IWCA convention for the ~ 300 guests at the Skylight Hotel. I believe the reaction of most guests was the same as mine: "I didn't realize this was an issue." The next day during a small group discussion with Heleanna, she elaborated on the issue, sharing that the eucalyptus tree itself does not threaten long-term sustainabilty, it's the inability to manage a eucalyptus forest properly. Farmers are driven to over-plant by the promise of cash returns and buyers are not self-regulating their purchases.
I got to see the eucalyptus threat with my own eyes during a short trip in the Sidamo region while driving to a coffee farm. The road went by acres of land cleared and left with eucalyptus stumps as far as the eye could see. Next to it, acre after acre of eucalyptus trees, waiting for harvest. In contrast, on the coffee farms in the mountains of Sidamo Nansebo, we walked through hills of healthy coffee trees growing organically under the shade of tall trees which have been there for hundreds of years. Coffee was also shaded by the "tree hero" - the false banana tree.
The False Banana, also known as Enset, is one of those wonders of nature where every part of it provides something the community needs. For example, I learned in grade school that eskimos use every part of a whale after it is caught. Nothing goes to waste. The same is true with the false banana, except it provides benefits during its life and "after", when it is cut down. While it grows, its roots hold together the soil and help to prevent erosion and its shade provides an ideal microclimate for coffee.