Sustainable Coffee Program in 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.