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Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field


Ethiopian Limu Coffee

Coffea arabica

My portrait of a particular coffee branch, from a particular part of Ethiopia, was inspired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's, work into the effect of climate change on the coffee-bearing forests of the southern and south west highlands of Ethiopia.

Coffea arabica's original gene pool is in Ethiopia's wet montane forests, where there are thought to be thousands of varieties. Coffee that is exported is mostly ‘garden’ coffee. It is sold under regional names from a mixture of local landrace and varietal stock, but all of it would have originated from the forests in those areas. 

It was important to me that I drew my coffee from a known regional type, so I accepted an invitation to visit Lubbu washing station in October 2019. A small family-owned farm, Lubbu also collects garden coffee from surrounding villages. It is located in the Limu area north of the city of Jimma. There I spent a happy few days sitting under the branch of a coffee tree loaded with ripening coffee ‘cherries.’ When I needed a walk, I could wander under the canopy of indigenous trees, many of them endemic, swishing through coffee planted in the understory. When thirsty, I drank the farm's own delicious coffee, roasted over a fire, and the farm's gracious employees answered my questions.  

I worked up my drawings at home in Scotland. Mindful of the bright light filtering through the branches, I used the very white botanical ultra-smooth paper from the British St Cuthbert’s Mill. I set the branches diagonally to show the more relaxed foliage of Ethiopian coffee trees, compared with those on commercial farms elsewhere. I finished it with a playful couplet showing a fragrant white flower, and the various layers of the fruit that makes processing the coffee at all stages such an art in itself.

I love the fieldwork, and talking with local people about their heritage plants, which leads to interesting dialogue. Sometimes one gets too much attention from curious onlookers, or the sun is too bright and hot, so I find it essential to find a good hotel bedroom which can be turned into a studio. In Ethiopia, it is also about promoting the value of botanical illustration and hoping young people might use it to both study plants and create beautiful works of their own.

The result of the Kew research? The gene pool in Ethiopia was shown to be seriously at risk from warmer average temperatures and declining or erratic rainfall. So initial research was followed up with a mapping project to show new areas in Ethiopia where native coffee varieties could migrate with farmers willing to plant.  

With grateful thanks to Mr. Natoli Jihad for entertaining me on his farm.

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Abundant Future-Howard SarahEthiopia Limu Coffee CMYK

Coffea arabica

Ethiopian Limu Coffee

Watercolor on paper

13-1/2 x 14-1/2 inches

©2020 Sarah Howard

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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