Coffee: a caffeinated vice, an international favourite, and an incredibly important export for many of the world’s agricultural regions. Coffee presents an opportunity to support sustainable fair-trade exports, and, with global demand for coffee reaching record levels, now is the time for lesser-known coffee regions to get in on the action.
Farmers have been growing coffee in Timor-Leste for hundreds of years. The altitude, soil and unique coffee varieties grown in the country make it some of the richest and most aromatic in the world. However, despite coffee being one of the country’s largest exports, the unique flavours of Timor-Leste’s coffee remain largely untasted globally. An exciting partnership bringing together Timorese specialty coffee producer Kape Diem, Australian green bean sourcing company, Project Origin, Australian profit-for-purpose consultancy, 1LM, and Australia's Business Partnerships Platform (BPP), supported by Palladium, seeks to change that by catalysing the growth of speciality coffee and bringing it to the world through a coffee export business and global marketing.
Better Farming for Better Taste
The partnership will increase the volume of “specialty”, or “speciality grade” coffee produced in the country and bring it to the world. Defined by a rating system that sees specialty coffee scoring above 80 on a 100-point scale, high altitudes, like those in Timor-Leste, are typical of the best growing conditions for specialty beans.
Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Zed, Seselja, notes the economic impact of the partnership. “This partnership will continue the growth of the specialty coffee market in Timor-Leste, helping establish a sustainable coffee export business that is expected to see increased incomes across 1,000 households,” he says.
Forging long-term relationships with farmers is a key goal of the partners.
With collaboration comes trust and security, and from there comes improved coffee quality and sustainable practices.
Ensuring more beans achieve “specialty” coffee grade, and accordingly can be sold for a higher price, the partners seek to improve yields for farmers, in line with their goal to create lasting social impact. Relationships with farmers will be supported by pre-harvest purchasing agreements, providing farmers assured income. By removing the uncertainty around crop sales, farmers can focus on the care of coffee trees. Coffee trees that are properly pruned and cared for can produce much higher yields and quality and, with focused attention during the harvesting process, can be sold as higher-grade specialty coffee.
The partnership will also support an experimentation farm, aiming to advance innovations in coffee quality. The farm will be leased through the partnership and will test the use of different plant varieties, planting and maintenance techniques, and methods for adapting to a changing climate.
Promoting Sustainable Farming
Addressing the three main environmental impacts associated with coffee production, power consumption, water consumption, and waste-water contamination, the partnership also seeks to improve the sustainability of coffee production in Timor-Leste. Wet mills will be solar-powered, water consumption will be reduced through the construction of reservoirs to support collection and storage of water for processing, and potential re-use of treated water. Additionally, in farmer training and outreach, growers will be encouraged to inter-crop to improve soil quality.
Building Women’s Role in the Coffee Sector
While both women and men are heavily involved in Timor-Leste coffee production, women are less visible and have fewer chances to develop themselves and benefit from the income generated. Historically excluded from decision making in village and community forums, not typically holding property rights in Timor-Leste, women’s development potential has been limited.
For BPP, gender equality is critical, and this partnership is no different. The initiative has committed to practical steps to build women’s role within the sector, enable asset growth and training and skills development. Among the steps committed to the partnership will require supply contracts to be signed by both husband and wife where relevant and possible, rather than just the male as “xefe familia” (head of the family). Additionally, women will be paid directly for coffee harvest and seasonal work, rather than via their male partners as is often practice.
Digital and print communications produced for marketing and training will further champion equality by featuring both men and women working together or individually undertaking roles outside of the stereotypes typical to the region. Particular emphasis will be placed promoting women in decision-making and ownership positions.
Spilling The Beans on Timor-Leste’s Coffee
Of course, when it comes to coffee, it’s all about the taste – and the partners involved know what sells. “We are looking for a clarity and sweetness in the coffee. In Timor-Leste the coffee has milk chocolate flavours, beautiful roasted nuts and caramels” says Yanina Ferreyra, Green Bean Buyer and Sales Manager, Project Origin. Project Origin have experience marketing coffee from Kenya and Nicaragua both in Australia and abroad.
A flagship initiative by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the BPP supports partnerships to scale commercial models. Delivering sustainable products and services that improve lives, and support more inclusive and productive value-chains, what’s not to love about coffee with some added benefits?
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