From traditional roots to urban trends: Southeast Asia's coffee renaissance


WALHI, an Indonesian environmental organization, reveals a case study of Coffee Field School and organic farming that helps to revive the livelihoods of coffee farmers sustainably.  improving soil quality and preserving the environment. Reduce expenses from using chemical fertilizers. Increase income from selling organic coffee that consumers crave

The breeze from the hills ran through Kasimo’s face; a coffee farmer whose farm is a stone's throw away from his cherished Rumah Gadang (Minang traditional house). Kasimo is one of the many coffee farmers located in Nagari Lubuk Gadang, in West Sumatera, Indonesia. The highland is blessed with plenty of rivers making it the coffee cultivated has distinct hints of berries and lychee, according to barista and coffee roasters. 

While Solok coffee is well known across the globe, Kasimo's wish remains simple, he wants nothing more than to live decently and to allow the children in his village to receive an education. He along with 24 other farmers is part of the initiative called Kopi Rakyat, the People’s Coffee, which was initiated by Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI), an environmental organization aimed to empower the farmers despite the challenges of the pandemic and, currently El Nino, the hot weather phenomenon, which threatening the crops.

From traditional roots to urban trends: Southeast Asia\'s coffee renaissance

Despite this recognition, South Solok's coffee farmers face ongoing challenges. The lingering effects of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic have cast a shadow over their livelihoods.

They struggled to sell their produce during the harvest season, often receiving unreasonably low prices of THB 9.09 per kilogram, with delayed payments. These farmers find themselves trapped in a conventional economic system, heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which burdens them with high costs.

Although coffee prices are gradually improving, basic living expenses, such as chilli, onions, and cooking oil, have significantly risen. Additionally, coffee production is threatened by various pests and diseases.

"Back then, as coffee farmers, it was disheartening. Some farmers even neglected to harvest coffee. Not to mention taking care of the coffee, they were too lazy even to harvest it. Moreover, the coffee market is monopolized by a few entities that set prices arbitrarily. At that time, we couldn't do much while the prices of necessities continued to rise." shared Kasimo, recounting his difficulties.

Brewing Success: Nurturing Sustainable Agriculture

In direct response to the challenges faced by South Solok's coffee farmers, WALHI West Sumatra launched the Coffee Field School on July 13, 2022, at the Sustainable Food Learning Center in Lubuk Gadang.

This program is designed to empower these farmers to become land managers by addressing various issues and cultivating innovative solutions, with a focus on seed cultivation, organic fertilizers, pest control, and market stability.

Wengki Purwanto, Executive Director of WALHI West Sumatra emphasized "Our Coffee Field School is a direct response to the challenges confronting South Solok's coffee farmers, with the ultimate objective of empowering them as custodians of their land.”

WALHI's Coffee Field School programs prioritize organic farming, marked by the use of cost-effective organic fertilizers, offering a dual solution: enhancing community well-being and combating climate change.

These fertilizers, capable of retaining up to five times their volume in water, rejuvenate arid farmlands and improve soil fertility, aiding in drought resistance, nutrient absorption, and production efficiency while ensuring agricultural sustainability.

In contrast, chemical fertilizers contribute to soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change.

Testimonials from Kopi Rakyat farmers paint a picture of positive change. The adoption of natural fertilizers has resulted in a noticeable enhancement in coffee quality, creating a ripple effect of rising demand for coffee products and contributing to the good of the environment.

Kasim said, “Although it may not yet bear the prestigious label of Specialty coffee, our coffee recently boasts an impressive cupping score, nearing 80”.  It proudly holds the designation of premium coffee, a testament to the potential of organic farming practices.

"And, of course, we are immensely pleased to discover that our fruitful efforts have not only brought blessings to us but also contributed to conserving the land, preserving the environment, and assisting in mitigating climate change," continued Kasimo
WALHI not only imparts knowledge on organic farming methods to the farmers but also educates them on the intricacies of coffee farming and processing.

Furthermore, farmers gain insight into the economic systems, trade, distribution, and marketing of coffee products. Kasimo emphasizes that today's farmers are becoming increasingly self-reliant. With the knowledge and support they've received, they've managed to maintain their coffee supply even amidst the scorching El Nino summer, showcasing their resilience and adaptability. 

Kasim said with enthusiasm, "Now, the price of Arabica cherry per kilogram can reach up to THB 31,82. While prices still fluctuate, it's far better than before. With the knowledge and excellent support we've received, we've even weathered the recent El Niño summer season without significant impact. We, the farmers, are truly overjoyed."

These words reflect not just the economic improvement but also the renewed sense of hope and satisfaction among the coffee farmers.
"We aspire to see this progress evolve further," says Kasimo.

"We aim to attract investments, particularly for equipment, to elevate the quality of our coffee even more, striving for the coveted 'Specialty' recognition. In doing so, we wish to make our coffee known and satisfy the coffee needs not just in Indonesia but across the world. Let's hope.

” This forward-looking mindset underscores their determination to push the boundaries and realize their dreams of producing top-tier speciality coffee.

WALHI understands that the increasing coffee consumption around the world has also put pressure on coffee farmers to produce more and more coffee beans. That’s why they provide training and guidance so the farmers can cultivate high-quality coffee beans but not sacrifice the sustainability aspect.

"WALHI stands committed to alleviating the burden on coffee farmers while preserving our planet's future. Through education, sustainable practices, and fair compensation, we aim to ensure that every cup tells a story of quality, equity, and origin." closed Wengki.

From traditional roots to urban trends: Southeast Asia\'s coffee renaissance