Trouble is brewing in the birthplace of coffee over who gets Ethiopia’s best beans. Ethiopians, Africa’s top coffee consumers, want to keep the beans at home.

By Katherine Dunn |

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—In the birthplace of coffee, a conflict is brewing over who gets Ethiopia’s best beans.

The government of this East African country wants hard dollars to build infrastructure, and so it has ambitious targets to increase coffee exports, capitalizing on world-wide demand for its high-end arabica beans.

But Ethiopians, Africa’s top coffee consumers, want to keep the beans at home. With urban incomes rising, Ethiopian drinkers increasingly want better stuff.

“In most cases, the domestic price is higher than international prices,” said Fikru Amenu, an official at the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Development and Marketing Authority, speaking at the World Coffee Conference here in March. “We are just trying to convince [the traders] to export, because of the harder currency.”

The bean is believed to have originated in the Ethiopian region of Kaffa, discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi whose goats became energetic after eating the beans. Coffee plays a key role in cultural and social life: around half Ethiopia’s entire crop is consumed domestically, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But it is also an economic lifeline: Coffee is the country’s top export, and it raises up to a third of the country’s foreign exchange, the USDA says. Ethiopia is counting on beefed-up coffee exports to fund projects, including a light-rail system in the capital and a dam on the Nile river.

In the fiscal year ending this July, the government hopes to increase the foreign exchange raised from coffee exports to about $880 million, a jump of nearly 13% from last year, Mr. Amenu said.

Continue reading this story on The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
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