"It was coffee harvest time," Syafar recounts in a video produced by RECOFTC. "Traders came and said the price of coffee would go down the next day and should be picked immediately."
Syafar, who does not come from a farming family, knew that if the coffee was picked in a hurry, it would have little value. "This is when I realized that it was a trick of the traders," he said.
With Bantaeng's rich natural assets, agroforestry products like coffee have provided local communities with their livelihoods for generations. And in a district with some of the highest rates of poverty in Indonesia (40%), the adverse effects of climate change and predatory trading techniques of a few traders will have an even greater impact, both economically and ecologically. "The dominance of these two players means that the price of coffee can never go up," Adam Kurniawan, the Director of Balang Institute, noted, referring to the two buyers who purchase the majority of coffee in South Sulawesi. Moreover, farmers in the area face additional obstacles like low bargaining power, poor crop management and high competition among smallholder producers.
These factors pushed Syafar to create a cooperative with the farmers in Bantaeng, noticing the importance of coffee to local culture. "[D]eveloping coffee is very suitable because it is an abundant natural resource [and] has a broad market," Syafar said, noting that "the community here has had a long-held coffee culture." Capitalizing on the issue at hand, Syafar helped create Akar Tani in 2016 to secure prices and help local communities.
"If we are in a cooperative," Syafar said, "we can set a price that will not change. Prices will not be lowered."
Since Akar Tani's creation, The Center has engaged in various capacity development initiatives. In 2016, The Center facilitated business risk management training to help the cooperative navigate its nascent stages. More recently, as part of one initiative, The Center organized a study tour to Klasik Beans Cooperative, a successful cooperative in Java, so that farmers from Bantaeng and Bulukumba could learn more about the coffee farming business and apply such practices to their own cooperative.
Kurniawan also noted the importance of capital, adding that, "An important point of RECOFTC's involvement is that RECOFTC connected us with a source of capital lending, in this case, the Center of Forest Development Financing."
Although financing has increased, there are still challenges. Firstly, the cooperative has faced difficulties supplying the appropriate amount of coffee to traders in Makasar. To mitigate this, Akar Tani hopes to generate enough capital to increase cooperative members, thus producing enough coffee to meet the supply. And in the near future, Akar Tani also hopes to develop marketing capacities, providing the necessary branding for their specialty coffee.
Coffee, however, is a land-intensive crop; whether it comes from a home garden or an agroforestry system, it is dependent upon access to land. That is why The Center is now working to solidify land tenure and increase capital for the cooperative.
Join RECOFTC and learn more about our work in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.