Dr. Kassahun Kelifa Suleman, an Ethiopian PhD student at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, is very interested in the wild coffee Arabica bean and its use in the rural household economy. He is even more interested in the social, environmental and economic implications that surround it as an ancient way of life struggles to stay viable in the face of competing interests. Arabica coffee’s origins go back thousands of years to the Southwestern Ethiopia, Yayo district included, and it is currently a huge cash crop, generating income for a large portion of the population. However, today, its local cultivation and use is competing with conservationists looking to preserve the region for its rich biodiversity and the coal mining operations currently underway in the area, creating environmental, political and social upheaval. In the hopes of finding a way to create a working balance among differing needs and priorities, Dr. Kelifa is looking to explore the historical use patterns of the crop, the social impacts of its conservation, the implication of coal mining on the local livelihood and the relationships between the different actors in the region.
Dr. Kelifa has long been a leader in his community, as an organizer and tutor during his Middle and High School years. As an adult, he has worked with and led various community organizations as well as local and International NGOs to promote food security, water and soil conservation and rural development. He sees the ability to problem solve, collaborate and communicate openly as hallmarks of a good leader and is pleased to have learned these skills from others throughout his career. He looked to continue his instruction as a Borlaug LEAP Fellow and extend the influence of Dr. Norman Borlaug’s influence in the agricultural world.
During his yearlong fellowship, Dr. Kelifa was mentored by both Dr. Jill Belsky of the University of Montana and Dr. Ehsan Dulloo of Bioversity International in Rome, Italy. Dr. Belsky is a Professor of Rural and Environmental Sociology as well as the Director of the Bolle Center for People and Forests. Dr. Dulloo is the Leader of the Conservation and Availability Programme at Bioversity International and has done extensive research on the preservation of wild coffee cultivars in Mauritius. Drawing from their experiences and skills, Dr. Kelifa received insights and expertise on qualitative research, particularly on data collection, analysis and the write up of his doctoral dissertation. In addition, Dr. Kelifa is grateful for the guidance of his PhD supervisor at the University of South Africa, Professor Julian May. Dr. Kelifa completed his PhD in 2016 and is currently working as a researcher in the Governance of Africa's Resources program at the South African Institute of International Affairs in South Africa,.