The physical, emotional and cultural journey embarked upon by two Ethiopians in Ashton, caused by political disquiet in their homeland is the backdrop to the formation of the Oromo Coffee Company. Oromo aren’t so much about the coffee but the legacy that it leaves.
Oromo are a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose fair-trade certified coffee is bought directly from the Oromia coffee cooperative in Ethiopia, then sold on to consumers. The goal of the founders, Abiot and Teshome, is to reduce the supply chain and ensure the farmers at the Oromia Coffee Cooperative in their homeland benefit as much as much as possible.
Such altruistic ambitions are matched by a drive and willingness to achieve that is explained in how the pair came to found the coffee company.
Abiot and Teshome, an accountant and a prosecutor respectively in Ethiopia, speak of a land divided. Throughout the last 700 years of its history, Ethiopia and the regions that it previously inhabited, had a system of law known as Gadaa. It is a uniquely democratic social and political institution, the length of its existence indeed being testament to its effectiveness.
The last government however saw fit to dispense with the ‘democratic’ element of Gadaa. The privileged few ruled the many leading to the Oromo people facing disproportionate tax, and violence. It was this deliberate decaying of their way of life that resulted in the pair leaving their homeland via Kenya, for the UK as legal refugees. A move made possible by the United Nations Gateway Project.
Upon arrival in the northwest, the pair were reluctant to depend on the welfare state, its concept being completely alien to them, and set about finding work. It was a task that proved insurmountable, in addition to the language barrier, social and cultural differences, their qualifications weren’t compatible with those in the UK.
Undeterred, through their church Abiot and Teshome came into contact with the Reverend Ian Stamp. In addition to assisting the pair in learning English, it was he who showed them the film Black Gold about the plight of the coffee farmers of Ethiopia, and it was this that sowed the seed of Oromo Coffee Company into the minds of the two.
With assistance from the Lorna Young Foundation, and the then local MP James Parnell the Oromo Coffee Company was born in 2009 with a launch party at Westminster amidst much press coverage.
Currently ranging three coffees, what is not in question is that Oromo people know coffee. The very name “coffee” is thought to derive from the Kaffa in Ethiopia, where its brewing qualities were first discovered. Whilst the staple crop has brought staggering wealth to many multi-nationals, it is only now that the local infrastructure is beginning to benefit.
Through the actions of Oromo and other like minded companies, the Oromia region has benefited with the construction of a new road school and hospital all within the last two years. Likewise Oromo are going from strength to strength, having this year acquired fair-trade certified status for their coffee, and begun to supply to bars and restaurants in the north-west of England.
The company operate with a refreshing attitude towards business, with everything geared towards the ultimate goal of benefitting both the community back home and the UK diaspora that welcomed them from Ethiopia with open arms. With a remit “to train and to educate” the board of the company is consists of women and Oromo people.
Abiot and Teshome however only see this as the beginning of their work, citing their desire to be the “main importer of Ethiopian coffee in the future, [give] good price for farmers…meet [our] aims”. Given how deftly they have dealt with the obstacles in their way thus far, and ably assisted by a committed staff it would be a surprise if they did not meet their goals.
During our interview, the pair spoke of wanting to “get people talking about coffee” and wanting people to think of “positive actions not handouts” when they think of Ethiopia. With the continuing success and plans of the Oromo Coffee Company, that is something that is genuinely achievable.