Mid-September, a container with 15.9 ton of Indonesian specialty coffee, known as Arabica Kerinci Gunung Tujuh Sumatra, arrived in the port of Antwerp. For most people, Indonesian specialty coffee is still an unknown treasure. And thanks to an ingenious business model, this coffee also contributes to the restoration of the Indonesian rain forest on the island of Sumatra. It’s a testimony of what is possible when a committed coffee buyer, an entrepreneurial NGO, a foreseeing government and an ambitious farmer cooperative join forces.
The coffee arriving in the port of Antwerp will be distributed by Sucafina Specialty, a global network of coffee professionals who supply roasters with quality green coffee. “There is so much to love about this coffee”, says Daniel Shewmaker, Manager Indonesia and East Timor for Sucafina. “It offers tastes of juicy, bright, fruit notes. I’m confident that the coffees from these beans will challenge your ideas about Indonesian coffees.”
All this is the result of years of focusing on quality improvement by the farmers of Koerintji Barokah Bersama Cooperative (KKBB). “They’ve improved quality control by moving milling, sorting and packaging operations to Kerinci”, explains Daniel Shewmaker. “This helps improve quality by not only shortening the time it takes to ready coffee for export but also by minimising any exposure to excess heat and humidity, which is common in Medan, a main milling and shipping center.”
This time, the export to Belgium was sent directly from Jambi port, the home province of the coffee. “If they can continue to market through us and circumvent Medan altogether, they’re capturing maybe another 6 to 10% of the value. And it’s money they can reinvest in themselves.”
The fact that the Barokah cooperative is able to deliver this top of class coffee can be considered a small miracle. It was founded only in June 2017and grew exponentially since then. “Rikolto has been supporting the members of Barokah Cooperative through various capacity building activities”, says Kiki Purbosari, Program Manager at Rikolto in Indonesia. “We provided coaching on coffee cultivation and processing, sustainable agricultural practices, as well as improving their business capacities and expanding their market access.”
These efforts paid off. “In our first year, the Barokah Cooperative won the first place at the Indonesian Specialty Coffee Contest in Jakarta”, says Triyono, leader of the Barokah cooperative. “In 2018, we won the second place on the same contest and were invited by the Indonesian Embassy to Hanoi, for a coffee exhibition.” The Barokah Cooperative also received the Bronze Gourmet at the Salon International de l'Agroalimentaire (SIAL) exhibition in Paris.
Coffee roasters can buy the Indonesian coffee directly from Sucafina Specialty. For each bag sold, they invest in a shade tree.
However, what makes the story of this coffee truly remarkable is the business model behind it. Farmers are not only compensated for the coffee they produce as well as for the actions they implement to preserve the forest. Jambi is a beautiful place, yet also one of the most heavily deforested regions of Indonesia.
“Simply telling farmers in this area to stop cutting down forest is not enough”, says Kiki Purbosari from Rikolto. “You have to guarantee their livelihoods. Therefore, we need to diversify crop production and increase productivity through good agricultural practices, so farmlands don’t need to be expanded.”
This can only work when farmers are recognised and compensated for their efforts to preserve the forest. That’s why Rikolto and the Indonesian government co-created a Payment for Ecosystem Services-model. “Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a cost-effective way to compensate indigenous communities, landowners and farmers for their environmental maintenance and provision of ecosystem services”, explains Wahida, Agriculture Attache from the Indonesian Embassy in Brussels. “For instance, a farmer who looks after agroforestry systems on a mountain range helps to diminish the potential of natural disasters such as forest fire, landslides or soil erosion.”
The payment can be monetary or in-kind through the provision of services like training, investments in infrastructure, etc. The fund is supported by actors in the coffee business, donors and government partners. “They are willing to reward these services to achieve positive impacts such as river system restoration, wildlife protection, and sustainable agriculture practices”, says Kiki Purbosari from Rikolto. “For the program to work, we need committed buyers with a long-term business perspective. That’s exactly what we find in Sucafina Specialty.”
In October, the farmers of the Barokah cooperative will be planting 600 tree seedlings that will function as shade trees in the coffee estate. The investment will be supported by contributions of Sucafina Specialty and their clients. “This is a form of Sucafina's good efforts in preserving the environment of the coffee plantation”, explains Daniel Shewmaker of Sucafina. “Planting shade trees means a loss for farmers in the short term, but a win for the whole of society in the long term.”
As farmers have implemented good agricultural practices, they have noticed the return of some bird species nesting in shade coffee trees. “We are happy to know that our efforts to cultivate coffee sustainably contribute to a healthier environment. This is something that we will keep promoting to coffee farmers in Kerinci,” promises Triyono, leader of the Barokah cooperative.