Seeds of Change

Time has just published my story on using insurance as a hedge against climate change.

The Tigray region in the Rockstrewn highlands of northern Ethiopia isn’t the type of place where you’d expect to find an innovative financial product. Its residents are mostly farmers, poor and vulnerable to crop failure resulting from persistent droughts. That’s precisely why the region has been chosen to serve as a test range for a new kind of insurance that could help poor countries cope with climate change.

The idea is simple. Instead of relying on food aid to help farmers after drought has hit, aid agencies can sign them up for crop insurance before disaster strikes. When the rains fail, a farmer can use a crop-insurance payout to buy food without dipping into the assets needed for the next planting. “It allows you to smooth out your income,” says David Waskow, director of the climate-change program at Oxfam America, which is coordinating the project. “Otherwise, you can fall off a cliff.”

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Sacred Africa

This article on the Ethiopian rock-cut churches in Lalibela ran in Budget Travel. It’s archived below.

November 2007
Sacred Africa
Nearly eight centuries ago, 11 churches were carved into the Ethiopian earth. You don’t have to be a believer to be intrigued by their mystery or awed by their majesty.

By Stephan Faris

The pageant overfills the dusty road. Under the hot African sun, a knot of clergy in maroon, peach, and royal blue robes raises parasols and brass crosses. When the parade pauses, a cleric wipes the foreheads of two high priests, wrapped in velvet and balancing replicas of the tablets of Moses on their heads. A loudspeaker pulses a tenor’s chant, and 20 men form two lines for a swaying dance to the jangle of handheld brass rattles.

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Starbucks vs. Ethiopia

This article on a trademark battle between Starbucks and the government of Ethiopia appeared in Fortune Magazine and is archived below.

February 26, 2007
Starbucks vs. Ethiopia
The country that gave the world the coffee bean and the company that invented the $4 latte are fighting over a trademark, says Fortune’s Stephan Faris.

By Stephan Faris

To produce a pound of organic sun-dried coffee, farmers in the southern Ethiopian village of Fero spread six pounds of ripe, red coffee cherries onto pallets near their fields. They sun the fruit for 15 days, stirring every few minutes to ensure uniform dryness, then shuck the shells.

Last season, that pound of coffee fetched farmers an average price of $1.45. Figuring in the cost of generator fuel, bank interest, labor and transport across Ethiopia’s dusty roads, it netted them less than $1. In the U.S., however, that same pound of coffee commands a much higher price: $26 for a bag of Starbucks’ roasted Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo.

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