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From Zero to Hero: The Story of the Janch Eji Leji Coffee Cooperative

Janch Eji Leji Primary Cooperative is a coffee cooperative in Ethiopia’s South Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The cooperative was established in 2013 with 50 members serving SNNPR’s Bench Shako zone. Unfortunately, throughout its first seven years of operation, Janch Eji Leji faced challenges (both operational and environmental) and technical setbacks, such as limited business and leadership skills, which greatly impacted membership. As a result, around 35 members left the cooperative leaving only 15.

Janch Eji Leji office. Photo Credit: Solomon Sermisa, VCA Regional Youth Specialist, SNNPR

Since 2021, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity (VCA) has provided technical support to Janch Eji Leji. The VCA gender and youth team has delivered gender equality, positive youth development, and business skill training for Janch Eji Leji members and promoted increased engagement of women and youth in business. This multi-dimensional support has not only enhanced the lives of cooperative members but has also helped ensure the sustainability of local agricultural production that enables youth and women to reach their full potential.

Before VCA’s interventions, the cooperative operated at a low capacity – seedling production, coffee production, and collection of necessary inputs from members were almost non-existent. Further, what they did produce was sold at extremely low prices, often incurring a loss overall from the sales. Primarily, this was due to very poor production quality, poor storage management, and limited market linkages. However, since VCA support began, the cooperative has seen success.

Cooperative coffee seedlings.
Cooperative coffee seedlings. Photo Credit: Solomon Sermisa, VCA Regional Youth Specialist, SNNPR

“With critical follow-up, the cooperative has seen a boom in seedling and coffee production and has engaged more youth in routine business.” According to Janch Eji Leji’s Manager, “The support has helped the cooperative to flourish in production and income and we have been linked to different government partners, such as the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, and other local market outlets.”

Currently, Janch Eji Leji has 614 members with capital of 11,232,198 ETB (approximately $258,000 USD). Female membership has increased from only two members at its lowest point to 88 female members today. The cooperative also employs 11 full-time staff (7 of whom are female) and utilizes more than 120 contract and short-term staff. In addition, Janch Eji Leji has built on the progress made since 2018, when the organization joined a larger umbrella coffee producer’s union, Bench Maji (made up of several cooperatives of similar size). This has opened doors to directly export coffee to European countries. Janch Eji Leji’s members and leaders are proud of the many hurdles they have overcome.

Cooperative Manager Taliyan Jalu stated:

“Thanks to the VCA project, all the cooperative members are happy and can generate a good income. Most of the time, youth members attend various trainings and cascade them to their families and society so they are more aware of how to best engage youth. The project has also given me hope to grow personally and expand my business and income in the future.”