Coffee Conversation With Dr. Jeffrey Neilson

 In Coffee Conversations

JULIA WINTERFLOOD

RINGKASAN: Walaupun kopi semakin digemari oleh berbagai kalangan, baik mereka yang peminum kopi specialti Arabika maupun kopi instan, namun kualitas kehidupan petani kopi tidak berarti membaik. Bagi Dr. Jeffrey Neilson, geografer dari University of Sydney yang melakukan riset di Toraja, bahkan istilah ‘petani kopi’ pun adalah istilah yang kurang tepat. Selain menanam berbagai macam tanaman di luar kopi, para petani di Toraja juga mendapatkan penghasilan utama dari sanak saudara yang bekerja di kota besar. Kopi adalah ‘banteng terakhir’ mereka.

Dengan meningkatnya permintaan terhadap kopi, kepala koperasi di Toraja mengambil peran yang lebih penting dan dibutuhkan untuk menjembatani roasters dengan petani. Kepala koperasi membantu roasters mencari dan mengumpulkan kopi dari berbagai macam petani di daerahnya yang sesuai dengan kebutuhan roasters tersebut.

If you think Indonesia’s booming specialty coffee sector means a better deal for farmers, ask first whether ‘Indonesian coffee farmers’ even exist

For the coffee cognoscenti, it’s well-known Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest coffee producing nation. They may be less familiar however with the fact Indonesia is the world’s fastest-growing coffee retail market, and the fifth largest by retail volume. Between 2012 and 2016, coffee franchise outlets and specialty coffee shops doubled, to 1,083 and 1,025 respectively, according to market researcher Euromonitor International. Starbucks now has 240 outlets across the country, Indonesia’s Maxx Coffee has 70 since opening in 2015, and Excelso has 65. With the number of independent coffee shops and roasters that have popped up in urban areas in the past year alone, the archipelago’s current total must surely now be nudging 1,500.

“There has been massive change in the Indonesian domestic market over the past ten years,” says Dr. Jeff Neilson, a geographer at the University of Sydney who has lived, studied, worked and researched In Indonesia over the past 25 years, and researched and published about the nation’s coffee industry since 2001. “Ten years ago, all good quality Arabica was exported. You’d go to any of these [coffee growing] regions and there’d just be fairly consolidated export firms often linked to international traders, and they were responsible for quality control systems. All the good quality coffee was being fed into the international specialty sector,” Jeff explains.

Despite the unquenchable thirst for specialty coffee and café culture in Indonesia’s urban areas, domestic demand for instant coffee mixes still reigns. Euromonitor reported off-trade sales (transactions with supermarkets and smaller food retailers) grew at a slightly faster rate than on-trade sales (transactions with cafés, bars, hotels and restaurants) last year.

Dr Jeffrey Neilson, geographer and Indonesia Country Coordinator forthe University of Sydney’s Southeast Asia Centre (Photo Credit Yogi Sumule)

It was no surprise that Torabika, one of Indonesia’s largest instant coffee producers, snagged dozens of advertising slots during MetroTV’s recent regional elections coverage. Along with the iconic tongkanan, the traditional ancestral house or rumah adat of the Torajan people, the ad featured farmers in traditional headdress gazing up from a sea of ruby red coffee cherries.

Are these farmers smiling about Indonesia’s booming specialty coffee sector and increasing demand for 4-in-1? After all, it seems that a significant component of specialty coffee culture’s need to trace the origin of beans is ensuring a better deal for those producing them. With idyllic images such as these, which are often replicated in café décor – think a framed black and white photograph of a wizened old man gently grasping a bunch of coffee cherries, or a watercolor of a young woman in conical hat arm outstretched for the prized fruit, or even just an ornate chalkboard illustration of a coffee plant – it’s easy to succumb to the romantic notion that farmer livelihoods must be improving with every ‘farm fresh’ cup of Aceh Gayo or Bajawa we sip. The farm-to-plate movement has been swiftly followed by farm-to-cup.

Despite this, Jeff admits he’s uncertain farmer livelihoods have actually improved that much with increased domestic demand. “What I have noticed in a lot of these places – in South Sulawesi, in West Java, in North Sumatra – is that it’s the heads of cooperatives, or the role for a local agent has become really important,” he explains. “You’ve got a Java-based roaster for example, and they’re traveling to Enrekang [in South Sulawesi], and they want to source ten bags, but they still can’t deal directly with the farmers, that’s still logistically too difficult as there are a whole bunch of farmers and who’s going to manage the quality for them? There’s this role that’s emerged – sometimes it might be the village head, or the head of the cooperative, who would then source the ten bags from a bunch of farmers. At the level of that agent, they’ve developed a lot of new opportunities, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the farmers.”

readalong3

“Often these ‘middle men’ are the most efficient providers in dealing with logistics for buyers. But they’re also the ones that are benefiting.”

So middle men still exist? “You need those middle men, the term ‘middle men’ makes it sound negative. Often these ‘middle men’ are the most efficient providers in dealing with logistics for buyers. But they’re also the ones that are benefiting.” As ever in Indonesia, things are never as cut-and-dried as that. Jeff explains further, “There are a whole lot of reasons why there hasn’t been a huge improvement in farmer livelihoods as a result of growing domestic demand. And a lot of that has a lot to do with the nature of farmer livelihoods in Indonesia.

“One thing I often say is I don’t even like talking about the idea of ‘Indonesian coffee farmers’,” Jeff continues ardently. “In these regions there are households that grow coffee, but they’ve often got diversified livelihoods. They may also be growing rice, which may be dominant, or reliance on off-farm incomes may be dominant. They might have their kids in the city who are sending back remittances. Most rural lives in Indonesia are pretty complicated. And even in the big coffee growing areas, coffee is often just one component within a broader livelihood strategy. Even if there were slightly increased prices for coffee, there’s no guarantee that would lead to significantly improved livelihoods.

“One thing I often say is I don’t even like talking about the idea of ‘Indonesian coffee farmers’,” Jeff continues ardently. “In these regions there are households that grow coffee, but they’ve often got diversified livelihoods. They may also be growing rice, which may be dominant, or reliance on off-farm incomes may be dominant. They might have their kids in the city who are sending back remittances. Most rural lives in Indonesia are pretty complicated. And even in the big coffee growing areas, coffee is often just one component within a broader livelihood strategy. Even if there were slightly increased prices for coffee, there’s no guarantee that would lead to significantly improved livelihoods.

“Even the initiatives I’ve been involved in, in facilitating and researching, a general conclusion I’ve come to is that coffee is very rarely seen to be the best pathway out of poverty for these households. They will often cultivate coffee almost as a last resort. I use the term ‘a fortress crop’ as that’s the term a Karo farmer up in North Sumatra used last year.” Jeff borrowed the term after the Karo farmer explained coffee was his benteng; i t essentially stops him and his family from starving, it ensures food security, but it’s not the crop they plant to generate wealth. Would the majority of Indonesians who grow coffee share the benteng crop idea? After a pause, Jeff agrees.

“In these regions there are households that grow coffee, but they’ve often got diversified livelihoods. They may also be growing rice, which may be dominant, or reliance on off-farm incomes may be dominant.”

“You go to Toraja, and it’s even more extreme,” he continues. “Torajan coffee’s got this great reputation. I’m a big fan of good quality Torajan coffee, but I can tell you it is far from being the most important aspect of rural livelihoods in remote Torajan villages. Even though coffee is quite clearly the most important cash crop, they will also grow rice, and that’s really important because that’s a crop from the gods. That rice field is part of the ancestral inheritance – they build these great enormous rice barns with all the motifs. Rice is an important crop, it’s not just some basic commodity, and it’s got a lot of cultural importance.”

“Even though coffee is
quite clearly the most
important cash crop,
they will also grow
rice, and that’s really
important because
that’s a crop from
the gods.”

It’s fair to say Toraja is even more famous for its epic funeral ceremonies than it is for its coffee. “At a Torajan funeral, you’ve got this incredible ceremonial economy. At big funerals, you might be sacrificing 40, 50, even up to 100 buffalo, and you need a lot of money for these, and I can assure you’re not going to get that money from selling coffee.” So how do Torajan families gather the funds for the unfathomable number of buffalo required for ceremonial sacrifice? “Instead the household will generate money through migration,” Jeff explains matter-of-factly. “I’ve done a few surveys in Toraja which show that on average a household will have up to three remittance senders, and that’s what’s driving the cash economy. Coffee is sort of important in a sense that you get a bit of extra cash, but it’s certainly not a huge priority, it’s not central to their livelihoods.”

Next time I’m sipping a cup of Toraja Kalosi, images of magnificent tongkanan in mind, I’ll now also try and imagine the Torajans far away from their families in Jakarta, working overtime to send money home. In a country as culturally, environmentally, and economically complex as Indonesia, it’s going to take a lot more than increased domestic coffee consumption to improve conditions for those who farm.

JULIA WINTERFLOOD is a Central Australian desert girl who has called Indonesia home for the past four years. As International Media Consultant for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Ubud Food Festival, she consumes a steady diet of Indonesian literature, language, art, music, film, food and, of course, coffee.

Coffee Conversation with Adi Taroepratjeka
Happening Now : Coffee's Fourth Wave

Share and Enjoy !

0Shares
0 0


0

Start typing and press Enter to search