In 1986, Birhanu Zerihun inherited 1.5 hectares of land in Kochere, Ethiopia, from his father. Since then, Birhanu and his family expanded the farm to a total of 10 hectares—with the intention of continuing to grow. They have also been building more infrastructure at the site where Birhanu processes coffee to experiment with additional processing techniques in the future. This year's natural sun dried coffee is full of jammy fruit tones like raspberry and strawberry that are complemented by a juicy mouthfeel.
We first came to know Birhanu in 2015 at an organic composting workshop in Yirgacheffe held by Counter Culture and Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Union (YCFCU). We had another chance to get to know him even better during a coffee-quality training session in Yirgacheffe in 2016, when we sat down with him and heard the story of his coffee farms and business.
Like most coffee farmers around Kochere, Birhanu was born into a coffee-farming family. As with tradition in Gedeo, upon establishing his own family in 1986 Birhanu was given 1.5 hectares of land by his father, Zerihun Mekonen. Birhanu also helped his grandfather with various coffee farming activities over the years, and, when his grandfather retired, he gave Birhanu a parcel of land. Birhanu has been relentless in planning for the expansion of his farms. As of today, Birhanu manages a total of 10 hectares of land obtained through inheritance, purchase, and contract—as well as the original 1.5 hectares of farm from his father.
The coffee from the original farm was covered with coffee shade trees, enset (false banana), and—of course—different indigenous coffee varieties. While maintaining the inherited indigenous coffee varieties from his father and grandfather, Birhanu also introduced varieties selected by other farmers and coffee berry disease (CBD) resistant varieties developed by Jimma Agricultural Research Center. As a result, it is very common to see different coffee types with distinct morphological characteristics on his farm. The combination of big coffee shade trees and enset on his farm creates a moderate level of shade for coffee trees. Coffee is a cash crop—it is the main source of income—while enset is a steady source of food for Birhanu's family.
Birhanu used to be an active member of Hama coffee farmers' cooperative. He gained a lot of experience in modern coffee-management techniques from the cooperative. Thanks to this experience, he has made a significant paradigm shift on his coffee farms in terms of variety selection, agronomic practices, and coffee processing techniques. We have noticed that the quality of coffee he produces continues to improve over the years.
Taking into account Birhanu's dedication to change from very traditional ways of coffee farming to modern approaches, Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Union selected Birhanu among many others as a "model farmer" to sell his coffee directly to the international market. Since he obtained the permission in 2015, Birhanu has built a coffee processing site next to one of his farms in Hamma Kebele. He processes his coffee separately and the coffee is marketed and exported through YCFCU. In the 2017–18 cropping season, Birhanu produced very clean and high quality grade one (GR-1) organically certified natural sundried coffee. The coffee has notes of raspberry and strawberry, complemented with a juicy mouthfeel.
It is very typical in most coffee growing areas in Ethiopia to name coffee farms after the head of a family, as is the case with Birhanu Zerihun.
Hama village is located between Fisehagenet and Chelelektu towns. Birhanu's farm is located in the northern part of Hama village bordering Bonk Busa kebele.