Sustainable Coffee Program in Sumatra

Location:   Indonesia

Project Overview
The lowland areas of southern Sumatra are the mainstay of Indonesian robusta coffee production. Currently about two thirds of Indonesian robusta is produced there, which makes up nearly 50% of Indonesia’s total coffee production. To put this into context, with about 12 million bags of green coffee produced in 2017, Indonesia was the fourth largest coffee producer, and the second largest robusta producer globally. Approximately every fifth cup of robusta sipped around the world has its origin in southern Sumatra.

However, robusta production in southern Sumatra is dogged by low productivity and poor-quality beans. Virtually all coffee is grown by smallholders cultivating between one and two hectares, and an average smallholder robusta farmer harvests just short of 500 kg of beans per hectare, which he or she commonly sells for less than 1.5 US dollars per kg to local traders or collectors. In comparison, global yield averages are closer to 700 kg per hectare, and under more intensive production regimes, such as in nearby Vietnam, average robusta yields can go beyond 2 t per hectare.

Currently supported by the J. M. Smucker Company, Jacobs Douwe Egberts and International Coffee Partners (ICP), the programme aims to improve the productivity, profitability and resilience of smallholder coffee production, in southern Sumatra, and consequently the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers in the area. It aims to do this in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner, focussing especially also on women and young people among its target population. Initiated in mid-2013, the programme currently operates in the major robusta producing areas of OKU Selatan District of South Sumatra Province, and is implemented by the 25-member strong HRNS Indonesia country team. It currently reaches over 20,000 smallholder farmers and their families across its target areas.

In a nutshell, the programme works around two main paradigms: on the one hand, that if trained appropriately, individual farmers can improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of their robusta systems, and, on the other hand, that by fomenting collective action and farmer organisation, the position of smallholder farmers in the local coffee value chain can be improved.

  • Training and capacity building at farmer level: Through a series of training of trainers, practice-orientated farmer field schools, individual follow-up and guidance visits to programme farmers by specifically-trained key farmers, and farmer cross visits or field days, HRNS aims to extend agronomic and technical information on good robusta husbandry practices. More specifically, farmers registered under the programme have received targeted training and follow-up visits on yield-increasing technologies, such as top grafting improved local cultivars on existing coffee tree root stocks, composting, improved fertilization and soil management methods, appropriate pruning/coppicing of coffee trees, uprooting old trees in coffee plots to create more favourable tree densities, and planting shade trees while keeping the ground covered, the latter two practices becoming increasingly more important as climate patterns become less and less predictable. Approximately nine-in-ten programme farmers have partially or fully adopted some of these practises.
  • Farmer organisation and collective action: By facilitating the establish of independently-viable and accountable small­holder coffee cooperatives that are empowered to take the lead in facilitating direct market contacts, collective bargaining and access to services and credit for their farmer members, HRNS aims to strengthen the position of small­holder farmers in the coffee value chain. This should allow farmers to achieve better prices for their coffee.
Arguably as a direct consequence of the trainings given through the programme, average green bean yields of farmers in the programme have risen from under 500 kg per hectare in 2014 to nearly 700 kg per hectare in 2017. Average yields are still increasing, and, if they continue in the same manner until the end of the programme at the end of 2019, may reach attractive yield levels of 1 t per hectare. On the other hand, to date ten cooperatives have started to assume roles that help improve the access of smallholder members to sales and training services. About 10% of programme farmers have started selling their coffee through their cooperative, where they can get up to USD 25 extra per tonne of coffee they sell compared to what they would get if they sold to a local collector or trader. While this may not seem like much money, this is enough to cover nearly two months of school fees for a child of a rural household in Indonesia.

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