By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne
Addis Abeba, September 21/2020 – The Bench Maji Coffee Union said some 20, 000 coffee farmers were benefiting from its activities, which included installing 17 coffee processing machines in each Kebele of the Bench Maji zone in Southern Nation’s Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS). The machines are fitted with seed drying fabric and the Union is also providing vehicles for transportation.
This was indicated at a presser held on September 17, 2020 focusing on the union’s annual performance, challenges and short term and long term goals.
According to the Union, Bench Maji as an administrative Zone has over 1000 Containers (19200MT) or 19,200,000 kgs annual production; and 95% of which is produced by small holder farmers. 500 containers (9600MT) is being produced by member farmers of the Union and the rest is produced by non member farmers.
The union announced that the it was holing a 7 daylong conference in Mizan Tepi town starting from September 19, 2020. This year’s conference is being held with the slogan “Multi-Sectorial Production for an All-Inclusive Growth” and is hosted by Mizan Tepi University. Its purpose is to share experiences of the Union with other coffee exporters and extend Bench Maji Coffee Union’s membership outside of Bench Maji Zone to the rest of Ethiopia.
According to the director of Federal Cooperative Agency, Usman Surur, Bench Maji Coffee Union’s contribution to modernization of the agricultural sector, rural industrialization and national unity is significant. He appreciated the union’s plan to expand its membership to larger areas because bringing farmers from various regions together results in an economic integration that leads to social and political integration. Usman further said that the Union was working towards an all-embracing technology based production where marginalized groups like women and the youth benefit from. He emphasized the union’s dedication to empowering local farmers and their involvement in the market which has resulted in the betterment of their lives evident in the farmers’ capital.
The Bench Maji Coffee Union is a farmer’s cooperative union with 95% of members being smallholder farmers. The union was established 15 years ago with the primary goal of making its members benefit fully from their coffee products both in domestic and international markets.
The administrator of Bench Shako Zone, Fikre Aman, on his part said that “he can attest to the enhancement of the lives of local farmers in the zone and the tremendous growth of Bench Maji Coffee Union”. He explained that Bench Maji Zone is ranked number one coffee producer in SNNPRS so the majority of the residents’ lives depend on coffee production. He demonstrated that, with Bench Maji Coffee Unions, farmers not only take part in the market but also quality assurance of their products.
The union has helped farmers break away from traditional means of coffee harvesting and introduced them to machinery. What used to be called crude forest coffee is now processed with the machinery the union provides and is sold for a better price for its better quality. The Bench Maji zone administrator further emphasized the union’s contribution to the well-being of the community and the preservation of the ecology by helping build infrastructures. He also called on investors to explore investment options in the evergreen Bench Maji zone where the community is hospitable and has no peace and security issues in SNNPR.
“The growing number of members from time to time goes on to show the advantage of the union” said the chairman of the board of Bench Maji Coffee union Niguse Siyazi who attended the press conference representing farmers. The number of members has gone from 6.5 million to 25 million within a span of 7 years, said the director of Federal Cooperative Agency Usman Surur.
The General Manager of Bench Maji Coffee Union Getahun Tekle stated on the occasion that the long term goals of the union include making the Union among top ten coffee exporting unions in the country. He explained that the union will diversify the product it exports and venture into exportation of spices and honey. The union is setting up a honey processing machine, coffee testing laboratory and plans to build more warehouses for coffee and spices.
Getahun also said that between the year 2020 and 2025, the union will train farmers on management, finance and technology. It has already launched saving and credit services for the farmers to further enhance their financial capacity.
Members are not affected by the fluctuation of the price of coffee since the Union operates within bylaws of international standards where traceability is assured, according to Getahun. “So far the rise and fall of coffee price didn’t affect us.” he said, “and loss and profit is to be shared with the farmers and the union because farmers are a part of the market as well”. He explained that the union doesn’t compensate in incidents of the fall of the prices because members farmers set/negotiate the price themselves. AS