Ato Tesfaye Bekele is one of the people that put Guji specialty coffee on the map. While the Guji zone was dominated by cattle farmers, he sought new ways to make coffee popular in Guji. “I don’t consider myself to be a coffee farmer, because coffee is everything to me. All my time and energy are placed into the beans that I harvest and process.” Tesfaye Bekele, the founder of Suke Quto Farm, explains.
“I come from a coffee-producing family, so during my childhood, I started to work with coffee early on”, Tesfaye continues, “At first, coffee did not have my interest. The labor was hard, and the days were long. But after several years of study and other work I returned to my home in the Shakisso woreda, Guji. I found myself in coffee again”.
Tesfaye started to work in Natural Resource and Environmental Protection for the government of Ethiopia. He was responsible for the Guji and Borena zone. At that time, Guji and Borena were one administrative zone. From 1997 to 1999 Guji was terrorized by large bushfires that destroyed 5000 forest acres. A true crisis for the Guji people that often remained clueless about the cause of the fires. Tesfaye had the grand responsibility to rebuild and find new ways to conserve the area.
“After the fires, locals returned to the lands to change these in agricultural fields. They started to produce teff and maize, for instance.” Tesfaye, as a responsible government official, realized that he could not stop people from returning to these deforested lands to rebuild their livelihoods. He needed to give people an alternative. “I came with the idea to replant the forests and also add coffee trees to enhance diversity. The local community agreed to my proposal and they asked me to provide the coffee seedlings.”
Suke Quto Farm is stretched out over the high lands and valleys of the Odo Shakisso woreda. The volcanic soil found on the farm is very fertile. Tesfaye keeps the soil in shape by organic recycling through litterfall, root residue from coffee and shade trees. Suke Quto coffees are all Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified.
Tesfaye works together with 171 outgrowers that deliver cherries to the Suke Quto Washing and Drying Station. Besides partnering up with outgrowers, he owns another 221 hectares in the highlands of Guji. More than 200 seasonal workers are needed to pick and process the Suke coffees.