Last December I wrote an article about a project we started with Frontera San Ignacio Cooperative in Northern Peru up near the border with Ecuador. It showed how you can source high scoring certified lots (both micro and macro lots) through a cooperative year on year and achieve an outcome whereby: smallholder farmers are motivated to produce better coffee each year; they are financially rewarded for it; and roasters can enjoy consistent coffee of the same cup profile and quality from crop to crop. This is no easy feat, and if you read my article on lessons from sustainable sourcing, you’ll know DR Wakefield has experienced many challenges over the past decade attempting to achieve this goal. There is always room for improvement, but we felt the model was successful enough in Peru to add another project coffee to the roster: enter Sumatra Hutan.
Before I talk about Hutan though, I’d like to talk about the Ketiara cooperative. One of the main conclusions we have drawn from working with cooperatives is that not all are set up to nor want to develop smaller lots of higher quality coffees that are linked to a project. Therefore, in the process of setting up a new project coffee, the most important sourcing decision is picking the right cooperative as, if they are not equipped to launch a new coffee or desire to do so, the project will fall at the first hurdle. When I was thinking about which cooperative to select for this new coffee, Ketiara instantly came to mind.
They are located in Aceh province, which is in the northern part of Sumatra (not to be confused with North Sumatra province) and are a very well run cooperative led by the force of nature that is called Rahmah. She is very passionate about producing high quality, ethical and consistent coffee that is in harmony with the environment and maximises producer profits. During my initial conversations with her, I knew that Ketiara was the right cooperative for the new project, as they already had a bunch of interesting projects on the go and were hungry to develop a new one.
I spoke to Rahmah about Palm Oil and protecting the Leuser Ecosystem. If you have not come across this term, it refers to a large forest in Sumatra and is the last place on earth where you can find, in the wild, elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans all coexisting in one place. Unfortunately, deforestation is wreaking havoc on this special place on the planet, and I thought there would be demand to source a tasty coffee that was linked to protecting this place and preserving the forest. So I reached out to a few NGOs in Aceh province who protect the Leuser Ecosystem and got excited about what we could achieve together. In the same way, as we have done in Peru with El Oso, La Osa and Tapir Andino, the idea was to source a higher scoring certified (Fairtrade and Organic) lot from the cooperative at a premium to the standard grade 1 and also to have an additional project premium.
In this case, the fund is called the Hutan Fund and is separate from the coffee and the Fairtrade premium price, which is invested in quality development, business and community projects. The reason for the existence of the Hutan Fund is purely for the planting of trees. Hutan means forest in Bahasa, which is why we decided to call the coffee that. You may recognize it from Oranghutan because the English language borrows that word from Bahasa when we refer to those apes. Directly translated, it means person (orang) of the forest (hutan).
Back to the NGOs, though. I found a couple and then spoke to Rahmah about involving them in achieving the desired outcomes we had talked about during our initial conversations. I figured we could use some additional expertise and resource but, to my surprise, she was very against the idea. She said that in her experience in Sumatra, farmer-led initiatives without the involvement of local government or NGOs had had the most success and that she wanted Ketiara to manage the Hutan fund and its development. Given the cooperative is so well run I deferred to her judgment. One of the great things about project coffees is collaboration and the lessons you learn as each origin is different, so what works in one might not work in the next.
After the experience with NGOs, or the lack thereof, you may be thinking that deciding which trees to plant would be simple. But, in reality, it was not. Harking back to Rahmah’s vision, true sustainability is where all the pillars are engaged: environmental, social and economic. Rahmah’s opinion was that a percentage of the fund should contribute to planting fruit and shade trees on the farm, which would create buy-in from producers, the custodians of the forest. This way, farmers would receive an additional benefit from the fund and be more invested in the project and its growth.
Again, it was not what I had in mind when I originally proposed my idea to Rahmah, but it shows the power of collaboration and how you have to be open-minded for a project to succeed. If the end goal is still achieved, and we can scale up our purchasing because the project has buy-in from all stakeholders in the chain, surely it’s a win-win?
This is the first year we are sourcing this unique coffee. 10 c/lb of the FOB price this year goes to the Hutan Fund, resulting in $1,587 from the 120 bags we sourced. Ketiara will provide an annual report on how the funds are spent and what trees are planted.
We look forward to growing our purchases so that we can, in turn, help to grow more trees in the future. This special coffee arrives in the UK in the first week of August, so If you’d like to try it for yourself, please get in touch with the trade team, who will send out a sample as soon as it lands at our warehouse in Tilbury, UK.