The Kundi Gagi cooperative was formed in 1979 (1971 by the Ethiopian Calendar) near the towns of Metu and Gore in the far western province of Illubabor. The name Kundi Gagi refers to the two villages of its members, Kundi in the mist and mountains, Gagi near the river. The area is spectacularly beautiful and lush with dense forests, the natural habitat of coffee Arabica. For most of their history, Kundi Gagi has produced traditional, natural sun-dried coffee. This method is relatively simple and requires fewer resources and labor than washed coffees. Cherries are harvested and then sun-dried, on mats or the ground. The dried cherry pods, called jenfel at this point, would then be sold to a merchant at low market prices, and lost in the blending and trade that followed.
Then about 4 years ago, the game changed. TechnoServe, a Washington DC based NGO began a project in western Ethiopia with the goal of increasing the income of coffee farmers by providing technical and business assistance. At the advice of TechnoServe, Kundi Gagi took out a loan to by a Penagos 1500 Pulper and began construction of a new wet-mill. Now, equipped with the means necessary to pulp, wash, and sun-dry on raised beds, the flavor of their coffee was transformed. Concurrently, marketing opportunities arose from this partnership with TechnoServe and a sample of Kundi Gagi’s coffee was placed in front of Caffe Vita, on a cupping table in Jimma.
We were immediately charmed by the perfumed aroma and intricate sweetness. Since then, we have become the primary buyer of their coffee and couldn’t be happier with the relationship. As a result of the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, Kundi Gagi has paid off all loans and posted record profits for their members last year. 30% of this will be set aside for cooperative projects such as the construction of a health center, paving the road to the mill, and purchasing a vehicle, with the remaining 70% distributed among members based on their contribution.
With our recent visit to the cooperative, we were able to confirm all of our criteria for Farm Direct designation. Through meetings with cooperative leadership and members, we were able to verify traceability of payment and we witnessed a strong sense of economic and social responsibility. Though not certified organic, it was observed and confirmed that all farming is completely organic. In fact, much of the cooperative’s coffee is basically growing wild, in an ecologically stable and undeniably natural environment, with numerous species of birds, monkeys, and insects buzzing through the shade.