Smallholder Coffee and Cocoa Farmer Assistance
Because of its geography and climate, Aceh is home to some of the most hospitable conditions for growing Arabica and high quality Robusta coffee as well as world-class cocoa. A substantial portion of these commodities is still being produced by smallholder farmers—citizens who either singly or as part of an organized group sell their beans to intermediaries and production companies.
International specialty coffee and cocoa buyers and manufacturers are interested in volume as well as quantity, and JMD assists both individual farmers and farmer groups in determining the best way to increase their selling power and their product quality.
JMD staff works with agencies implementing large value-chain-improvement projects for groups of over 1,000 beneficiary farmers. We also work individually with small fledgling associations who do not wish to implement a traditional co-operative model in addressing production and marketing. Cooperatives in the province have historically been operated by non-farmers who at times place association profits ahead of farmer interests. However, there exist some excellent co-operatives in the province with whom JMD Is pleased to work; we take our cues from the farmers with whom we partner.
Whether we are working in the relatively accessible and high-yield coffee production areas in central Aceh or in the remote, conflict affected yet cocoa-rich plantations to the east, JMD's overarching concern is for the continual development of a symbiotic and beneficial relationship between the residents of a specific area and the ecosystem in which they are working and living.
Smallholder coffee and cocoa farmers face many obstacles in Aceh. A great deal of the protracted 30-year civil conflict took place in the hills; the same geography that is idea for growing coffee and cocoa was also beneficial to military combat operations. Vast swaths of coffee and cocoa plantations were decimated from 1975-2005. And the same conditions that create the magnificent and ecologically significant rainforests such as the 2.4 million HA Leuser Ecosystem also produce the perfect coffee cherries and cocoa beans. Generations of farmers living in or on the buffer of these forests must now curtail their activities or learn ways to improve their production while preserving the resource. Former resistance fighters and their families live in these coffee and cocoa-rich areas, and faced with little or no job prospects due to curtailed education and loss of farmland are forced to engage in illegal logging and other practices that damage the forest that is crucial to the success of their long-term livelihood.
As if these challenges were not significant enough, the increase in large palm-oil concerns in these sensitive areas further stifles traditional farmers' livelihoods, as unprotected but significant rainforest is eliminated in favor of the crop that is the most destructive to the environment but the most cost-effective for multi-national entities to produce. In fact, the majority of companies offering assistance to cocoa farmers do so as a public relations addendum to their palm oil portfolio.
The Indonesian government is caught between trying to protect the resources of the province and accepting the infrastructure improvements and short-term economic employment that the large monocropping entities promise. As always, small farmers and the environment pay the price.
Out of Integrated Agriculture Training Comes a Cocoa Producing Force to be Reckoned With
JMD's Integrated Agriculture initiatives and trainings yield some unexpected and positive results in the tiny village of Simpang Jernih in isolated Aceh Timur/East Aceh.
JMD was familiar with the agricultural demographics of Aceh Timur, having implemented several livelihoods projects in the area since 2009. Devastating floods in 2010 had caused many of the area's farmers to lose their crops and need to start over. JMD noticed that the area is one of the best in the province (and, as it turns out, all of Indonesia) for growing cocoa, and since the trees were growing in many citizens' fields, JMD gave a community-wide training in early 2011 regarding coco cultivation and production.
Well attended and widely received, the training prompted 9 women to approach JMD and ask for help in turning their heretofore individual activities into a cocoa production association, with additional training and communal tools. So began a partnership that has grown into a potential economic boon for the entire area. JMD and the women's association hopes to increase its membership to 20 farmers over 40 Has (95 acres) by the end of next year. It's predicted that new cultivation and post-harvest production methods, combined with training in recordkeeping, business/association management, and how the cocoa market operates, will increase production to well over the national average within three years.
JMD Partners with IOM to Improve Coffee Production in Central Aceh
From 2009-2011 JMD worked with the International Organization for Migration to provide a key component to IOM's the "Sustainable Economic Growth for Aceh" (SEGA) project funded under the Aceh Economic Financing Facility (AEDFF). SEGA's objective was to support the recovery and development of Aceh's economy by improving access to finance and providing technical assistance top coffee farmers, cooperatives and businesses in central Aceh. JMD was responsible for implementing the Direct Support to Farmers (DSF) initiative, which provided support, expertise and training to over 1,100 coffee farmers and their families/partners. JMD staff also developed a peer education model that trained 50 farmers (men and women) as local Agriculture Extension Workers to set up and run 50 field schools. Each of these field schools oversaw the training of 20 individual coffee farming families. Activities included:
As a result of JMD's efforts and the dedication of our 50 trained Extension Workers, JMD's coffee farmers took top honors in the regional coffee cupping/tasting competition in 2011.
Robusta Coffee ... the Wave of the Future?
In the West, Robusta coffee is traditionally thought of as "inferior" because of its usually harsh, strong taste. It is used to make many of the instant coffees currently on the market, and it is also used as one of the ingredients in espresso. What is interesting about Robusta, however, is that a good quality Robusta is even more sought-after than the highest quality Arabica. In Italy, for example where espresso is elevated to art form, good Robusta is the Holy Grail of coffee experiences.
Robusta is in fact the coffee most commonly consumed in most of Asia, and despite its name, implying it can grow well anywhere, there are few areas that have the right combination of geography, climate and precipitation to produce this hardest-to-cultivate perfect Robusta bean.
Western Aceh is one such place, and in fact 30 years ago the area was home to the best quality and largest exported quantity of Robusta in the country. Not only was the area known as Aceh Jaya decimated by the internal conflict, it was also the epicenter of the earthquake preceding the 2004 tsunami that killed over ¼ of Aceh's population. While the actual floodwaters may have not reached the hills of Aceh Jaya, the secondary livelihoods in which ex-Robusta farmers were engaged were extinguished, leaving them with neither primary nor secondary sources of income.
Since 2005 JMD has been working with residents of Aceh Jaya, including a group of approximately 400 Robusta coffee farmers, some of whom are still working parts of their plantations and producing small amounts of coffee for sale. In 2011, with the assistance of the Coffee Quality Institute, JMD was able to submit the Aceh Jaya Robusta to an international evaluation conference to determine the amount of work necessary to bring the Robusta up to standards that would make the Italian connoisseurs dizzy with delight. We are hoping to work further with this farmers' group and with CQI as they develop standards for Robusta that will lead to an international market and interest in this emerging coffee variety.