Global Coffee Report– Indonesia is a 5100-kilometre-long archipelago – the largest in the world – made up of 17,500 islands with an area of more than 1.9 million square kilometres. With more than 1000 inhabited islands and nearly 750 different languages, Indonesia is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world.
Indonesia is also a significant contributor to the global coffee industry, following closely behind Colombia at number four in the production ranks, according to the International Coffee Organization.
To fully understand Indonesian coffee, one would have to break down the 15 provinces where it is grown, and their varied farming and processing practices, their varied climates and topographies, their varied coffee flavour profiles, and more. The vast country and its approximate 1.24 million hectares of coffee farms simply does not allow for generalisations.
Diversity breeds challenges
Although the size of Indonesia and its diversity across islands with coffee-growing regions presents some opportunity, especially when today’s Third Wave consumers are increasingly interested in micro-lots and origin stories, the challenges are exponentially greater.
Especially challenging are logistics and communications throughout the industry. Information is not easily transferred along the extensive chain or among the many smallholder farmers, who make up more than 90 per cent of producers.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service annual GAIN report, Indonesia’s green coffee makes its way to export markets through a complex, multi-tiered value chain that relies upon well-established relationships and logistics. There are up to four different intermediaries between farmer and exporter.
Veronica Herlina of Sustainable Coffee Platform of Indonesia (SCOPI), and formerly of the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia, regularly faces communication and organisational challenges in her work.
“Indonesia is not only made up of different cultures, but also languages, farming practices, geographies, and climates,” she tells Global Coffee Report. “Can you imagine trying to teach all of them?”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Herlina says extensive research is necessary prior to any support projects to understand what each village needs in terms of knowledge and training, and a translator is always present. Currently SCOPI is working with 25 different governments and 190 master trainers on development and productivity projects.
The vast diversity among the islands, the significant number of smallholder farmers and the extensive supply chain together also contribute to inconsistent quality.
“Because farmers own the land, they feel they have the authority to do whatever they like in terms of farming activities, and then we have long stages in the supply chain with different processes done by different actors,” explains Intan Wahyoe, Indonesian Program Officer of Fairtrade Asia-Pacific. “So it’s not that easy to get consensus in terms of how quality can be achieved.” She says that’s where a certifying body like Fairtrade or FLO-CERT can play a role in organising and motivating standardised farming practices to help improve quality.
Herlina echoes those sentiments, noting the characteristically independent farmers and the strong need for collaboration among the government, private sector, and cooperatives. “The specialty market appreciates differences among farms,” she points out, “but when you need to supply the mass market, you have to have the same taste, quality, and consistency.”