Tadesse is the founder and general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union (OCFCU). The OCFCU was founded in 1999 and today represents some 240,000 small coffee growers from Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia. Blessed Coffee gets its Arabica coffee beans from the farmers of this co-operative.
Tadesse was featured in the 2006 documentary Black Gold. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was a nominee for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. The film captures the paradox between the enormous sums of money generated by the global coffee trade and the meager existence of many of the farmers growing that coffee. The film follows Tadesse’s efforts as he travels the world working to obtain better prices for OCFCU farmers than those set by the international commodities exchange.
The trailer for Black Gold opens with the startling statistic, “For a 3 dollar cup of coffee, the farmer earns 3 cents.” It was this type of gross inequity that compelled Tadesse to develop a co-operative union system that allows farmers to retain much of the money that would otherwise be paid out to middlemen and exporters.
The world has taken notice. Shortly after the release of Black Gold, Tadesse met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to screen the documentary. Britain’s then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Balls, said, “Delivering trade justice is not just morally right, it is an economic necessity for Tadesse and the farmers.” Also taking notice has been Oxfam America, an OCFCU partner and sponsor of a 7-city US tour that gave Tadesse a platform for continuing to raise awareness about the inequities in the global coffee market.
Perhaps most significantly, in 2012 Tadesse traveled to Washington, DC to participate in talks related to the 38th G8 Summit and to sign the “Private Sector Declaration of Support for African Agricultural Development.” It was the first time that the G8 Summit included private sector leaders in these discussions.
Tebabu and Sara met Tadesse in 2002 at a forum organized by Oxfam International and Global Exchange. It was through this meeting that Blessed Coffee and its business model Virtuous Exchange were born.
Tadesse has become a friend, mentor, and business advisor to Tebabu and Sara. During a recent visit to the US, Tedasse stayed at their Takoma Park home and met with members of the Brewing Change campaign team. His words to the team echoed his earlier message at Blessed Coffee’s inauguration event:
“Anyone who has based their business on the hope of finding a permanent loser has [an un]sustainable business. I’m always telling business people that in order for them to have a viable, prosperous, and sustainable business, every company needs to incorporate human dimensions. Tebabu and [his] associates are one of the few who respond to the need of the farmers in returning $1 USD from a pound of roasted coffee.”
Want to be inspired yourself? Click here to read the full text of Tadesse's inauguration remarks which are posted on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s website.