6/8/16 – This guest blog post is written by Mama Bumi, a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student venture team tackling deforestation in Indonesia alongside their partner, the Kehati Foundation. You can also learn more about Mama Bumi on their website.
Indonesia consists of some 13,000 – 17,000 islands (depending on your definition of what constitutes an island), and because of this, the cultural heritage and diversity of the people living here is immense. From the sparsely populated jungles of Kalimantan to the gridlocked streets of Jakarta, Indonesia is an ever-evolving country that frequently faces many new and unique challenges. Many of the people have been living off of the land for thousands of years, working hand and hand with nature to harmoniously thrive in this tropical climate. The people here are not starving, because the land can provide them with everything they need; however they struggle with bringing in an income and often are unable to send their children to school, purchase basic conveniences and pay for quality healthcare. They struggle with bringing in an income because the demands of modern industry do not align well with their cultural processes. While visiting with coffee farmers in the North Sumatran town of Sipirok, team Mama Bumi was able to identify the following three challenges:
1. Consistent Quality:
When collecting products from a variety of smallholder farmers, the quality of the product, be that coffee beans, honey, rice, etc, can vary wildly among suppliers. This can be due to a number of factors. What we found in Sumatra was that the quality of the coffee bean was impacted by both human and technical factors. Many coffee farmers will mix a variety of different types together and attempt to sell them as one species. Eventually the beans will be tested and the coffee will be sold at a lower price due to the range of quality. The quality of coffee also has a lot to do with the drying process. Green coffee beans must reach a specific humidity level in order to taste good after being roasted. Some basic equipment is needed to optimize this process and without it, the consistency of the bean will not be guaranteed.
2. Consistent Quantity:
Smallholder farmers in Sumatra frequently have trouble producing enough coffee to meet the demands of buyers. Not only can having proper equipment improve the quality, it can also increase the quantity, as many beans are ruined from poor drying processes. However the biggest factor that affects quantity is knowledge. Using current practices, most coffee farmers in northern Sumatra only manage to harvest 10 – 30% of their potential crop. This leads many smallholder farmers to slash and burn forests in order to plant more coffee trees. However, if instead they improved their cultivation methods, they could increase their production many times over without destroying the forest.
3. Consistent Demand
The lack of consistent quantity and the variation in coffee quality have led many buyers to look elsewhere for their coffee needs. Most coffee buyers do not have the capacity – nor do they have any interest – in helping the farmers produce more quality coffee sustainably. They are simply looking for the best quality coffee at the cheapest price. However, if buyers are willing and able to commit to a long-term partnership and invest in their coffee suppliers, then the smallholder farmers will be motivated and supported to make changes in their practices that can improve the quality and quantity of the coffee.
Watch for an update in a few weeks as we continue putting our cousework into use in the fields of Indonesia as we help our partner, the Kehati Foundation, asses how best to tackle these issues and how best to grow demand for sustainably produced, socially responsible coffee.