Marketing, A Serious Challenge for Flores Organic Farmers

Marketing, A Serious Challenge for Flores Organic Farmers


It was a mess outside the farmer organisation's office. Two men were repairing the roof and walls of this 4 x 4 metre room. The sound of hammering and sawing broke the afternoon silence in Mbay, Flores, last week.

It was a bit disruptive, for sure. That early August afternoon, I was chatting with the manager of the organic cooperative Koperasi Produksi Andalan Tani Organic Mbay (ATOM), in Mbay, the capital of Nagekeo district, East Nusa Tenggara.

But I loved the story behind it.

"We're expanding the office. The front part will be for the outlet. And this will be the cooperative's office," said cooperative manager Martinus Sirilus Malo. We are sitting in the back of the room. Two managers are busy working on the cooperative's organigram. 10kg and 50kg sacks of organic rice are piled up near the door.

This expansion of the cooperative's offices is a reflection of how this farmer cooperative is growing. It is selling to more and more organic rice buyers.

But they hope to be able to grow even more.

Mbay is a centre of rice production in Nagekeo district. Covering an area of around 3,000 hectares, this is one of the most important rice production centres in Flores, along with Lembor in West Manggarai. Over the past five years or so, several farmers in this area on the north coast of Flores have been trying to stop relying on toxic agricultural inputs. Collectively, they make their own compost and organic pesticides. As well as being cheaper and more eco-friendly, their rice production is different now as well – healthier and sustainable.

To market these products, the farmers manage their own cooperative. Kiosks in the city – which has been single out as a contender for the capital of Flores should this province break away from East Nusa Tenggara – are full of "Mbay Rice" brand organic rice. They sell red and white rice. The red rice is IDR 18,000/kg. The white rice is half that (IDR 9,000 per kg).

Sales of organic rice fluctuate, between 300 kg and 2 tons a year. And this is their biggest challenge – intensifying marketing to get more buyers. This is no easy task, says Martinus. In the four years of selling organic rice in kiosks, they've faced many challenges. Not only in terms of organisation dynamics, including a rapid turnover of farmer organisation board members, but also a lack of customers.

In general, the target for organic products is better-off consumers, in the middle to high income bracket. This group is already health aware. But not many people in Mbay fall into this group. So, the Mbay farmers have expanded the marketing of their organic rice to neighbouring towns, such as Ende and Maumere.

The coffee farmers in Bajawa face similar challenges with marketing organic commodities. The three farmer groups that I met in Ngada district, a coffee production centre in Flores, said that they faced much the same difficulties as the rice farmers in Mbay.

Organic coffee farmers in Ngada are spread across two subdistricts: Bajawa and Golewa. Both lie at the foot of Mount Aimere and produce the speciality coffee Bajawa Flores Arabica. They already farm organically. They have a well-defined market. One of their buyers is a coffee exporter based in Sidoarjo, East Java, which regularly buys their coffee. Bajawa Coffee is exported to Europe and the US. Unfortunately, payments from the buyer are sporadic. As of last week, payment had been made for only one of four deliveries.

Marselina Walu Wajamala, a farmer in Radabata, Golewa says that around IDR 30 million is owing to farmer groups. Most of the farmers sell their coffee through farmer groups as a part of their collective marketing schemes. Marketing collectively, explains Marselina, gives farmers access to a more certain market and higher prices. "But if they aren't paid, the group members start to distrust us," she says.

Marselina says that the farmers would be more confident about selling their coffee through the farmer groups, if they could be paid cash in hand. But to do that, the groups must have ample working capital. Having limited resources, it is not easy for the farmer groups to access credit from the government or the bank. That is what Marselina and her colleagues are working towards now – getting access to finance directly from the bank. But there is still a long way to get to get there.

Anton Muhajir, VECO Indonesia