Sara Yirga is the founder & Manager of YA Coffee Roasters and is emerging as one of the most passionate promoters of Ethiopian coffee. Here, she talks to The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew reflecting on her local brand, on Ethiopia coffee, promoting it in the world and on helping Ethiopian women coffee entrepreneurs. She is also on the verge of opening her first signature coffee store in the Bole area. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Tell me about Ya Coffee?
Sara Yirga: YA Coffee is a passion project and a company started by me and my husband, Dagmawi, in 2012. I am a Business Manager, Specialty Coffee Authorized Trainer, with passion for Coffee and Fashion; whereas Dagmawi is a Bio Chemist, a Coffee Master and a Leadership Consultant. We both came from Social development backgrounds, so, it is difficult for us to think about a business without thinking sustainability and inclusive development. That being said, Ethiopian coffee is something we are proud of and the main reason why we are so passionate about it.
How was it established and is it a long-term vision?
YA Coffee Roasters is established with the commitment for a sustainable business model that addresses economic, social and environmental concerns. It prioritizes smallholder farmers, the business (i.e. employees and partners), and consumers to deliver on its commitment for sustainable development.
The vision for YA Coffee is long-term and desires to establish a higher education institute for human resource development by 2035. However, a profitable, scalable, and sustainable business is critical. Accordingly, YA Coffee is a pioneer in setting up a specialty coffee roasting company with a direct supply chain agreement with smallholder coffee farmers or their cooperatives. The supply chain agreements directly improve the income and profitability of smallholder farmers and guarantee a higher return for their coffee.
However, this is not sufficient to transform the lives of smallholder farmers. Accordingly, YA Coffee is planning to establish Coffee Processing Centers (CPCs) to engage smallholder farmers through extension services, coffee quality training, and market linkage. Market linkage is important to ensure new markets for our smallholder farmer partners. In addition, income diversification and biodiversity conservation are two areas of focus. It will use the CPCs to train and promote on intercropping including beekeeping. The CPCs will also create employment opportunities for both professionals and young people from rural communities to improve livelihood and help minimize domestic migration.
Another investment area for YA Coffee is retail outlets in selected destinations for tourists. This will develop coffee tourism and directly address job creation for women and youth migrants. It will also engage a number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide milk and artifacts. There is also a plan to develop virtual content for delivery, through virtual reality (VR) and ensure global presence and engagement. These planned investments help address the four selection criteria’s stated: potential for impact; innovation; replicable; and scalability.
Ethiopian coffee has a growing fan base and it is yet to reach its full potential. What is a great coffee for you?
A Great coffee for me is a source of decent livelihood for the producers.
Once it reaches the hands of the processors, supplier, traders and roasters like me, Great Coffee is defined by the quality you find in a cup. That is a result of investment in proper harvesting, processing, storage, then very careful roasting and brewing it. Each step in the value chain determines whether or not the coffee you get is great or not.
You are a member of an association that is determined to make Ethiopian women coffee growers gain experience and opportunities. Tell me about that?
Yes, I am one of the founders and active members of The Ethiopian Women in Coffee Sectoral Association. Our aim is to enable our members become competitive in the global market. In addition, by way of investing in skills development throughout the Coffee Value Chain, we aim to contribute to improving the quality of Coffee and productivity of the Coffee Sector. According to Africa Development Bank’s study, women are responsible for about 70 percent of the work in coffee production. Thus, we represent a strategic group with bigger opportunities vying for the development of the Ethiopian Coffee Sector.
What is the long-term vision of Ya Coffee?
Our Vision is becoming a global brand for Roasting and Exporting Ethiopian Specialty Coffees at origin. We also envision a sector that is driven by professionalism and ethics so that we harness the many benefits coffee brings to the social and economic development of the nation.
Why do you think Ethiopian coffee, while loved by consumers around the world, still has not been exported as much?
Because of the unique flavor attributes it brings to a cup that is naturally developed due to the altitude, soil type and the amount of rainfall it receives combined with our traditional coffee processing method, known as “Natural’ by the industry, is one of the reasons our coffee is loved and consumed passionately. As I mentioned earlier, we need to work on the productivity of our coffee producers. Moreover, there needs to be a national coffee marketing strategy, targeting emerging markets instead of focusing only on highly competitive and saturated existing markets. I believe, with the new AfCFTA in place, there is a huge opportunity to develop and maintain a strong market share in our continent.