Coffee farmers in the Wonago district of southern Ethiopia grow the internationally recognized brand coffee, Yirgachefe. Compared to farmers in the rest of Ethiopia, growers here usually live a better life. Although Berhanu Atara and his family in Gedeo may only get a fraction of the international price of the coffee they grow, they make a meager but stable living.
However, the past two crop seasons had been rough for Berhanu's family. Lack of rainfall killed their flowering coffee fruits. Adding to that, people all over the world are cutting back on their coffee consumption due to the global economic meltdown.
"The coffee plants flowered on both coping seasons, but due to lack of rain, the flowers failed to give fruits," Berhanu said. "We can barely feed our families now."
Berhanu has three children. His wife says some neighbors with more than eight children are starving.
Abraham Astatke of the Gedeo zone rural development bureau says farmers are suffering from the combined effect of drought and the falling price of coffee. Adding to that, farmers in Wonago have big family sizes.
"This district is densely populated. As many as 140 people live in one square kilometer," Abraham said. "The combination of all these factors has exasperated the situation. For the first time, in Wonago we are distributing food aid to farmers who had always been self-sufficient."(Click on audio link to the right to listen to the full story)