Around 90% of the coffee drunk worldwide is Coffea arabica. The cloud forests in the Kafa region form the habitat of the last remaining populations of wild-growing Coffea arabica, and are considered to be the original source of this species. In Kafa, centuries of wild growth and mostly undisturbed evolution have produced around 5000 varieties of coffee.
Coffee plants are a part of the delicately balanced forest ecosystem in Kafa and have always been used by the local inhabitants, being picked both for personal use and for sale at local markets. The discovery of coffee in Ethiopia was sometime between the third and tenth centuries. Many rumors and tales exist about how coffee’s energizing properties were discovered however the following story is a popularly accepted account:
"A young herdsman called Kaldi first observed the stimulating properties of wild coffee. When his goats became hyperactive after eating the leaves and berries, Kaldi swallowed some of the berries himself, found that he too became abnormally excited, and ran to a nearby monastery to share his discovery. Initially, the monks did not share the young goatherd’s enthusiasm, but instead chastised him for bringing evil stimulants to their monastery and threw the offending berries into the fire. But then, seduced by the aromatic smell of the roasting berries, the monks decided to give them a try and found that they were unusually alert during their nocturnal prayers. Soon, it became accepted practice throughout Christian Ethiopia to chew coffee beans before lengthy prayer sessions, a custom that still persists today."
Source: Briggs, P., (2009). Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide. The Globe Pequot Press.
Protecting the rainforests in Kafa and promoting sustainable use of its natural resources will therefore be of benefit not only to the global community, preserving an incredibly rich genetic resource of worldwide significance, but will also contribute to improving the quality of life of the local people and help keep their centuries-old traditions and ceremonies alive.