In 1998, thousands of Ethiopian coffee farmers were robbed of their annual harvests. Unofficial traders would visit villages to buy coffee with “dry” checks – empty promises of payment that Ethiopian banks refused to accept once farmers tried to cash them. As a result, the coffee growers received no income for a full year’s work. During this crisis, Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative (OCFCU) was created to help farmers create stronger and more transparent trade relations. The cooperative became Fair Trade Certified in 2002 and it has now become one of the largest coffee cooperatives in the world with over 180,080 coffee growing households. OCFCU places emphasis on specialty and quality coffee; exporting six varieties to the specialty market. They have used their Fair Trade premiums to form over 28 social programs to support small farmers with the Fair Trade premiums they receive from coffee sales. Coffee communities in Ethiopia suffer heavily from extreme poverty. OCFCU has played a significant role in addressing and solving these issues. Farmers voted to use Fair Trade premiums to implement a wide variety of program ranging from providing clean water, to better access to schools, to building bridges and flour-mills for the community. Clean water is a luxury to many living in poverty. Water is usually collected from still bodied lakes and ponds that contain parasites and waste materials. The cooperative has focused its efforts on building wells that provide malaria-free drinking water for the community. Flour mills have also been constructed within the community so that women don’t have to walk up to 20 miles every day to retrieve water. OCFCU members are dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship and social justice in their communities. Women hold prominent positions throughout the organization and all six varieties of OCFCU’s award-winning coffee are produced with organic techniques in bird-friendly conditions. Today, OCFCU sells its coffee to Fair Trade markets in the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia.
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