The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Wednesday 23rd May 2007

Black Gold: the story of the film

Given by - Nick Francis

Reviewed by - Richard Snailham

I live within striking distance of the biggest Tesco store in Britain — which, is in Slough. There are shelves of Fairtrade coffee in aisle 15. Every time I go there I try to find some from Ethiopia. In vain. All the others are there: Colombian, Ugandan, Costa Rican, Kenyan, Mexican, Brazilian, even Guatemalan. But none that is specifically Ethiopian. This is sad because, as I hope you will agree, Ethiopian Arabica is in my view the best.

That this is not just a subjective judgement of mine was confirmed by a moment at the beginning of his new film Black Gold when Nick Francis showed several professional coffee tasters slurp-slurping their way through various other brews and pronouncing the Ethiopian to be ‘Numero Uno’.

He showed us just the first four minutes or five minutes of what promises to be a significant film and, it is to be hoped, shown on television, both of which should help to put the case for a more equitable treatment of Ethiopian coffee growers by the international trade bodies. Made by Nick and his brother Marc it runs for 80 minutes.

In his introductory talk he made a number of important points: trade not charity is one of the best solutions for African problems; the image of Ethiopia as a typical African basket case country must be rejected; as must the notion that it is a country wholly dependent on aid; Arabica coffee is Ethiopia’s biggest export, but with the fall in the price of coffee after 1989 its growers have been paid well below their costs of production.

No celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Sir Bob Geldof are needed to front this film, Nick told us. It has an unseen narrator and its hero is Tadesse Meskela, who represents over 74,000 coffee farmers in the Oromia Coffee Union.

Addressing a bunch of these men he asked how much they thought we westerners paid for a cup of coffee: one birr ($0.12 — or about 6p)? No, he told them, we pay 25 birr (£1.50) in some smart places. How many cups of coffee can you make from one kilo of beans? About 80. So at western prices a kilo of coffee will earn Starbucks/Costa/Café Nero about 2000 birr (£120). What do the growers get for a kilo? About 50 birr (£3). Scandalous, even allowing for middlemen, transportation, overheads.

What can we do about it?

1. Lobby high-street coffee shop chains to stock Ethiopian coffee and to see if they use Fairtrade supplies.

2. Continue to ask for Ethiopian coffee in our local supermarkets. They have customer service managers to whom we can write.

3. Urge those of our members who have influence in the right places – and some members are MPs – to do what they can to make Fairtrade genuinely fair and to promote Ethiopian coffee.

Nick Francis has made what looks to be a very important film. It is the first time there has been a full length film on the coffee business, on the ground in Ethiopia and in its global context. So another thing that we can do is go and see it.

Editor’s Note. Screenings of Black Gold continue throughout the summer (July, August, and September) in various locations around the UK. Dates and venues can be checked on the film’s own website —

The website also has further information should anyone wish to get involved in campaigns regarding fair trade and a lively and interesting forum discusses these issues.

First Published in News File Summer 2007

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
Information is offered in good faith but the Society does not warrant the status or reliability of the information contained.

© The Anglo-Ethiopian Society and Contributors 2003 - 2024