Coffee, The Black Gold From Ethiopia

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages around the world. It is one of the most traded agricultural produce or commodity in the world, second to the crude oil from mostly middle-east states .Originally, coffee is said to be from Ethiopia,and botanically is known as Coffea arabica. So the botanic or rather scientific name is mainly consisting of two things the Genus and species and the official language used to name all fauna and flora of the world is defunct Latin language.

From my personal observations, the botanic/scientific name can be derived from geographic location of the species,or somehow refer to ethnic/racial or national denotation where the plant(species) is found. However, in the case of coffee as Coffea arabica, the use of the word arabica is huge misnomer,since Ethiopia is hardly arabic, but just Ethiopian or African, thus one asks, wouldn’t it have been just and fair, to name it in honour of Ethiopians or Africans? Just like arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) or white stink wood (Celtis africana), both species names (aethiopica and africana) are derived from country (Ethiopia) and continent (Africa) names respectively. Similarly, wouldn’t it be scientifically good thing to name coffee botanically as Coffeaaethiopica” or “africana“? A handful of the scientific or botanic names, particularly those predominantly of African origin, have been named in honour of western people to some degree and obviously in reference to a continent,country,province and nation, where the plant grows in abundance. So the Scramble for Africa was not only limitedly focussed on exploitation of natural resources, Africa’s biodiversity was not spare the colonial claws.

Coffee is the traditional beverage in Ethiopia. It is above all absolute heart and soul of Ethiopian economy, of which heavily leans on agrarian activities. The coffee in Ethiopia is an intertwining thread or element amongst the people, thus being the a core tenet of their tradition. Secondly coffee is one of the mind-stimulant hot beverage of choice in the fast pace world, and as such Ethiopia is world supplier of  fine, superb coffee beans of note,thus making “black gold” the pillar of economy,generating much needed revenues for the farmers. Coffee is one of the agricultural products, that I consume liberally, yet what bothers me as I looked through the different brands, is the fact that the premier coffees that I have seen in the shop shelves were made in Europe. So the question, is how could it be?

Isn’t coffee to Ethiopia, supposed to be what scotch whiskey is , to Scotland? The fine, premier whiskeys are indeed from Scotland, no doubt about it. Isn’t coffee, supposed to be what Cognac is, to Cognac Province of France? How come Ethiopia, is not the top world producer of fine,premier coffees? Why can’t we take pride from sipping Ethiopian coffee, agronomically grown from African soils and irrigated with water from Nile or Omo River and superbly roasted,finely grounded (processed) in Africa? Ethiopia is shining star of Africa, politically and historically, having been the only country in the continent that didn’t experience full-fledged imperialism. Ethiopia never experienced the deadly fangs and lethal claws of colonialism except the brief spell of occupation and attack by Italians.

Life is not fair, so they say. Who said life must be fair anyway? Wasn’t it one western man who once said “united we stand, divided we fall”? Indeed, Ethiopia is supplying the world with coffee beans (raw material) at cheap price, similarly to how most of Africa’s indigenous forests are ruthlessly logged by foreign companies to be exported as raw logs to be processed and manufactured into high end furniture in first world. Equally so, fine,premier coffees made from African coffee beans are mostly consumed in the first world. Unfortunately, the honey dug by hardworking honey badger, does not trickle down to be enjoyed by honey badger itself as the cunning hyenas aggressively usurp the honey. For farmers in Ethiopia and many parts of Afrika, theirs is systematic subjugation to pauper lifestyle to eat from hand to mouth, just a survival activity, than entrepreneurial business.  Just like in oil in some African countries, most of the people do not benefit, and the result is environmental contamination and degradation, coupled with civil unrest, strife and abject poverty in the presence of plenty. Coffee, the “black gold” as it is affectionately called, is not the problem. The challenge is we don’t attach value to our African treasures, thus our failure to adopt new technologies and techniques will keep us in bondage forever.  The best, fine premier coffee must be one “Made in Ethiopia, Africa” , that on its own, will further underpin the attraction of of agro-tourists and lead them to pour into Ethiopia.

It seems the economic cobweb is always in place to keep the African in quagmire of poverty. The world is not free in reality. The cunning ones as jackals always try by all means to have loin’s share through subtle,manipulative systems. As long as our “black gold” leaves our African shores as our unpolished ” blood diamonds” ours will be rich continent of poor people (paradox of plenty). Ethiopia, and some African countries are growers of coffee plantations, for coffee beans production, to supply the world with highly demanded black gold, so isn’t it high time they further add value to their raw coffee beans to process them into fine, premier,quality finished coffee products? Why not, is the practical question? T.D Jakes says “Success is intentional”, and in the same vein our solution to our plightful predicament lies in ourselves in totality. While we might whine, complain, and even curse the shrewd exploiters, the power lies within us to break the shackles that keep us fettered in the limbo of poverty. As we sip the  coffee, black or with milk, to be mentally stimulated to face challenges of the day head on, it is either we formulate meticulous plans to change “paradox of plenty” equation or conform willingly to the western economic prescription, the choice is ours.

Sithembiso Mahlaba

An agriculturist by profession, blogger by passion, prominent opinion-maker without favour or fear.

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