Farmers’ Day: celebrating coffee farmers in Indonesia

One of the best aspects of my position as editor of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal has always been the travel. And while it is always fantastic to visit countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (to name just a few) for conferences, conventions and trade shows, the most rewarding are the trips to the producing countries like Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Uganda, and Vietnam where I have been able to meet and interact with coffee farmers, especially the children.

Last week I visited Indonesia with a group of international journalists, organised by ofi (formerly Olam) to learn about the green coffee supplier’s regenerative practices and decarbonisation strategies in Aceh (12 hours by car from Medan). ofi is one of the top three suppliers of green coffee globally and operates in 18 growing origins across Africa, Asia, Central and South America. ofi has been in Indonesia since 1996, and today buys coffee, cocoa, nutmeg, and black and white pepper from more than 400,000 farmers, collectors and suppliers throughout the archipelago. Presently, ofi exports Arabica and Robusta, and has a combined market share of approximately 15%.

ofi’s Coffee LENS 2022 impact report (published in November) noted that in 2022, the company introduced regenerative land practices to an area equivalent to 47,000 football (soccer) fields, increased the share of renewable energy in its processing facilities to more than 50%, and achieved over 81% traceability to farmer/farmer group/regional level. ofi’s availability of sustainable coffee stands at more than 40% (directly sourced).

On the coffee farms throughout Aceh, we observed farmer training sessions on agroforestry, composting, and other regenerative practices in action (including fertiliser made from fruit that is safe for human consumption). We also participated in a mock polygon mapping, which ofi has been doing as part of its sustainability practices but this also meets EU requirements for traceability and environmental due diligence. We then had the opportunity to learn about post-harvest processing at wet and dry mills, and cup a variety of coffees (some were truly amazing, at least according to my limited palate).

The trip fell amid the peak of the second harvest period, when farm activities, post-harvest practices and processing were in full swing. During this time, ofi hosts its annual Farmers’ Day celebration, which, designed by its Indonesia team, acknowledges and rewards the efforts and engagement of the farmers in ofi’s supply chain in Aceh. Activities will include games, cultural displays, and distribution of premiums to the farmers. One of the more interesting awards was given to farmers in the cooperative who have downloaded – and are using – a banking app, in order to encourage more farmers to do so.

It is always beneficial to be able to interact with the farmers and politely pepper them with questions about being a coffee farmer – the rewards and challenges – what it is like working with new technologies and learning new coffee-growing methods and techniques, and of course, implementing the growing number of sustainability strategies, as well as to see how they operate and often, where and how they live (unlike many coffee-growing regions, in Indonesia, the farmers do not live on their coffee farms). And while speaking with the farmers, their children are most often not far behind, eyes wide open with curiosity. Some of the brave will come up – always in a group, never alone – and ask questions in the English they are learning. Then they giggle and run away, which is adorable.

On the occasion of ofi’s third Farmers’ Day, our group was treated to a special performance by the children, choreographed just for us. It was beautiful, fun and heartwarming.

When we visited Aceh, the prolonged and heavy rains had delayed the bulk of the harvest (some coffee had been picked), and while stressful for the farmers, on this special day celebrating them, the joy on their faces was evident, knowing that they were being appreciated for their efforts.

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