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KAI RYSSDAL: If you go to the Starbucks website, it tells you coffee as a drink originated in Ethiopia more than a thousand years ago. And right about here is where irony meets the news of the day.

Ethiopia's been trying to trademark some of its beans. Starbucks has been accused of blocking that process. And today, a group of major African coffee-growing countries took sides. From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard has more.

STEPHEN BEARD: A group representing Africa's top coffee growers today attacked Starbucks. It urged the company to drop its opposition to Ethiopia's campaign to trademark some of its coffees in the United States.

The British charity Oxfam has endorsed that trademark campaign. Oxfams' Chris Jochnick

says it will bring vital help to a country where most people live on less than $2 a day.

CHRIS JOCHNICK: What this initiative tries to do is to give those farmers the leverage to control and manage the names of their coffees in order to be able to derive more value from the sale of those coffees.

Starbucks denies that it's tried to block Ethiopia's trademark applications. But the company's Sandra Taylor says Starbucks does not believe that trademarking is the best way for the Ethiopians to improve their standard of living.

SANDRA TAYLOR: Well, we respect the Ethiopian government's right to choose the direction that works for them. For us, we believe that it's most important for farmers to focus on quality. And that's why we have undertaken the kind of programs we've announced for East Africa.

Starbucks is planning a support center to advise coffee farmers on how to improve the quality of their beans. And the company is putting more money into health, education and water projects.

Entirely laudable, says Oxfam. But the group says it would be much better to let the farmers trademark their produce, giving them more control over the price and more earning power.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.