Green Festival Speakers

Tadesse Meskela



On the top floor of an office block in the centre of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia you might find Tadesse Meskela. As the General Manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, Tadesse spends most of his time flying around the world meeting coffee buyers who will pay his farmers a better price than that set by the international commodities exchange. Tadesse's responsibility cannot be under estimated. He represents 101 Cooperatives and the livelihoods of over 74,000 coffee farmers, which including their families is over half a million people. His relentless determination and drive to help them comes from his upbringing.

He grew up in the countryside outside Addis Ababa in a poor family where for many years they could not afford to buy him a pair of shoes nor give him a packed lunch for school. Every day for several years, Tadesse walked bare feet for two hours to school and two hours home again.

Determined to find a way out of poverty, Tadesse worked hard at school until he won a place at university. By the early 1990s he was working as a senior expert in the state Agricultural Bureau and after a twomonth cooperative training placement in Japan, Tadesse was inspired to develop a cooperative union system as a way for farmers to retain the huge sums of money being paid out for the services of middlemen and exporters. In 1999, the Oromia Coffee Farmers' Cooperative Union was established and since then, the Union has facilitated the building of four new schools, seventeen additional classrooms, four health centres, two clean water supply stations, and $2 million have been returned back to the farmers in the form of dividends.

It was inspiring to spend over two and half years filming Tadesse in Ethiopia, London and the US. His story is the story of an attempt to make globalisation work for the producers behind some of the world's most valuable products. He has found a way around the structures that block farmers being paid a fair price. However, as he says himself in the film, this is not just an issue that affects coffee but all the products coming from the poorest countries in the South.