The forests that swathe Ethiopia’s western highlands are the original home of coffee, which still grows profusely in the understory along with a wealth of other wildlife and sustainable forest products.
The 7,600km2 Kafa Biosphere Reserve is the largest and most accessible of three such UNESCO-recognised reserves that protect Ethiopia’s western highlands. It is also an important repository of coffee genetic diversity, since many different varieties of bean still grow wild in the region.
- The coffee-yielding montane rainforests of western Ethiopia also harbour numerous other sustainable forest products, including forest cardamom, forest pepper and honey.
The new Bonga International Coffee Museum is currently under construction in Bonga, a pleasant forest-fringed town set in the heart of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve.
- The tourist office in Bonga now offers guided day and overnight walks to several sites associated with the biosphere reserve. These include a stunning natural rock formation known as God’s Bridge, and the so-called Mother Coffee Tree, which is the world’s oldest living plant of its type.
- Wildlife likely to be seen in the coffee forests of the west includes the black-and-white colobus monkey, along with a wonderful diversity of highland forest and grassland birds including 11 species endemic to Ethiopia.
- Other important coffee-producing regions include Harar, Jimma, Yirga Chafe and the Lake Tana Basin. Wild or feral coffee plants are often to be seen in the understory of the small forest patches maintained by many rural churches and monasteries throughout Ethiopia.
- The Bebeka and Tepi Coffee Estates, respectively the largest and second-largest in the country, are good places to learn about coffee production, and to ramble through dense montane forests alive with birdlife. Both also operate simple but comfortable guesthouses.