Monday, April 18, 2011

Coffee Part III - Empowering Communities through Action

This is the third of a three part series on my findings in Aceh, Indonesia. First, I examined a failure in the Fair Trade system and the "negative implications" it has on farmer cooperatives. In the second post, I examined a recent case presenting the cooperative perspective of their dealings with a Fair Trade coffee importer and based on that, explored ways for Fair Traders to keep the system in check. In Part III, I present how I worked with the cooperative to create positive and sustainable solutions.

During our travels I was sharing a vision for the future of Indonesian Fair Trade with my translator, Mr. Faisal. He was fascinated by the possibilities in our discussion and suggested I meet with key people in the region to discuss my findings and to pass on this vision to them the way I had passed it on to him. He arranged the meetings for a Sunday when the cooperatives were closed. 

I met Mr. Rizwan Husin, founder and Director of Baburrayyan Cooperative, the largest coffee cooperative in Takengon with over 6,000 members; and with Mr. Mustawalan, a human rights advocate and the Chair of the Indonesian Fair Trade Producers Association, which includes all twelve FLO-Certified cooperatives in Aceh totaling over 25,000 members. Not only did they embrace the vision I shared with them, but they agreed that I should meet together with the management of the three cooperatives I had interviewed. Mr. Rizwan Husin agreed to host the meeting at his office. 

Twenty members of management from the three cooperatives arrived, as well as Mr. Mustawalan. The previous day I had made an outline for our work on the whiteboard. There were two primary issues I wished to address, first was regarding a common practice in the function of the cooperatives; and secondly to create a vision of the future of the Indonesian Fair Trade Movement. 

One principle Fair Trade embraces is to promote gender equity. I will state frankly that in some cases, particularly in agricultural cooperatives, I sense that Northern Fair Traders are all too often satisfied with minimal efforts of their trade partners in the South to address the gender imbalances and inequalities that can exist. This commonly comes out of fear of overstepping cultural boundaries and are overly sensitive of what they consider "cultural issues."

In other words, embracing Cultural Relativity as an excuse not to address existing inequality is alive and well within the Fair Trade Movement. For more on that topic, read a recent post, Gender and Cultural Relativity. Again, I quote Paul Hawkins regarding the stark differences between principles and practices, “Practice seems more humble word than principle, a word behind which it is easy to hide, and which often leads to some sort of failure. You can betray a principle, but you can always keep on practicing.”

Sumatra: The island where some of the worlds best
organic Fair Trade certified Arabica coffee originates

As a professional trainer in Fair Trade, development, gender, and women’s rights, I decided to directly address the existence of inequality in their cooperatives. To be successful the exercises had to be experiential and participatory; this was not to be lecture from some foreigner telling nineteen Muslim men and one woman how it ought to be.

I prefer tackling the difficult issues first. I divided them into small groups of four, and presented a scenario that resonated with the people of Aceh. Firstly, the Indonesian Parliament has five hundred and sixty (560) representatives from thirty-three provinces covering 17,000+ islands, of which Sumatra is one of the larger islands. Of the total representatives in Parliament, twelve come from Aceh. 

However, in this scenario those twelve representatives had been removed. From now on, the neighboring province of North Sumatra which had 17 representatives will also represent Aceh.  

I asked for each group to write down their reactions to this news and how they felt about it. The results were as follows:
  • Political and Social ambitions of people from Aceh not achieved
  • Different priorities between the two provinces 
  •  No infrastructure development for Aceh 
  •  No balance in development projects 
  •  Social jealousy 
  •  No ambition for the people of Aceh 
  •  This situation leads to conflict 
  •  A deep seated desire to be free from this situation

Next, I asked if each cooperative was founded on Participatory Democracy and there was a resounding “Yes.” Delegates are elected to represent their constituents, and meet with them a couple weeks before the annual cooperative meeting in which issues are addressed and local development projects proposed. Considering 50% of the village populations are female, I asked how many delegates in their cooperatives were women. I knew the answer beforehand: None in most cooperatives, and very few in the others.

Admittedly there was a sudden tension in the air. One man tried to change the subject, but I brought their attention to the whiteboard where in their own words and in their own handwriting they could see the impact of this practice. I went slowly through each one-by-one and let the words soak in, rewording it to regard women. 

Much to my surprise they entered an open discourse with me on this topic. Perhaps it was the way the issue was presented, or perhaps it was the atmosphere created by making this a participatory activity centered on their input. I didn’t push for immediate change; this was to break the ice. Besides, these deep seated attitudes that have gone unquestioned for a lifetime. What I wanted, and what I saw was a crack in their collective wall. When someone did mention culture doesn't change, I brought up that even the locally popular government of Aceh has 30% of its provincial representative seats reserved for women. I also brought up the cultural change a simple cell phone had made in the daily lives. Arguments for cultural relativity had no place here.

I heard from my translator that no one had ever breached this issue with them in such a way before. To state it succinctly, the way I presented the issue in relation to their cooperatives was quite direct:

Gender Equity is not a religious issue; 
       Gender Equity is not a cultural issue; 
              Gender Equity is not introduced from the outside. 

Gender Equity is about a principle they very much believed in: 
          Representation and Participation in a Democratic System.

From this topic we moved on to creating a vision, but to do that we needed to look at the realities they faced as cooperatives. I outlined the findings from my research, step-by-step, connecting each to the next as I had learned it:
  1. Currently 100% of the Fair Trade Certified Organic Arabica green beans from the cooperative are for export 
  2. No prepayments from coffee importers have left cooperatives short of capital 
  3. No capital meant no payment for members when they delivered their beans. At this time when conventional prices are as high as Fair Trade prices, members deliver their beans to the conventional markets instead since there is no payment offered on delivery by the cooperative 
  4. No prepayment also meant that there were no funds to process the beans to be export ready. This activity generates income for the cooperative and members of their community 
  5. From the perspective of the cooperative, this led to a loss in credibility with its members 
  6. A loss in credibility threatens the cooperative’s existence as member may relinquish their membership, or simply continue selling on the conventional market, thus greatly reducing the cooperative’s future ability to source the beans and process them for export
    There was a consensus that my findings were accurate. Now it was time to share with them what I had learned in the Philippines regarding efforts to make coffee cooperatives sustainable (For more information read: To Make Coffee Sustainable and Introducing Fair Trade High Above the Clouds

    I outlined the measures taken following the 2008-09 Global Economic Crisis by the Philippine Fair Trade Movement:
    Next we went through the steps to make coffee sustainable in a simple exercise that they could supply the key information in the following steps:
    1. Sell to the conventional market (let the price be X)
    2. Sell to the cooperative at Fair Trade prices for Y, which is a fluctuating amount higher than X, depending on the current market price (For this exercise, Y becomes the base price)
    3. The Cooperative processes, roasts, and packages their own Fair Trade Coffee brand for local consumption. A kilogram of packaged coffee could be sold locally at 2*Y (* represents to multiply in this equation). For local consumption in Takengon the price would be 2*Y, but in the cities of Aceh, this could be sold at higher prices
    4. Locally a 250gr package of ground coffee would make 17 cups (They like their coffee served strong here!). 4 packages = 1kg. 1 kg = 68 cups. 68 cups of high quality coffee served in the local contexts would make a handsome profit for a cooperative. The final retail price of 1kg of organic Arabica coffee = 12*Y. 
    I asked the cooperative members what they would prefer: X, Y, 2Y, or 12Y?

    Going through this exercise awakened them to a potential business venture! A cooperative could become sustainable on a local market. A collective of twelve cooperatives could expand such a venture to the cities of Aceh and throughout Sumatra!  

    Seeing the potential they had, I shared how to reach that potential with a simple coffee roasting machine that could be operated locally (Read Introducing Fair Trade High Above the Clouds).  

    But once again, the issue of a lack of capital surfaced and the discussion led to the idea of seeking outside funders. Instead of letting this go on too far, I asked a simple question: How many farmers there in the twelve cooperatives? They made a few calculations: 25,000 farmers. Then I inquired if 10,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) is a fair amount to request from members once a month. They replied this was feasible. On the white board I made a quick calculation:

    x10,000 IDR
    250,000,000 IDR (approximately US$28,800) 

    They had capital for this venture! 

    Farmer cooperatives empowered to pave their own way;
    This is the future of Fair Trade!

    I divided them into three groups, each with a specified task to foster this newfound interest:  
    1. What is your vision for the future of Takengon, and how do we make it a reality 
    2. What is your vision for the future of Aceh, and how do we make it a reality 
    3. What is your vision for the future of Indonesia, and how do we make it a reality
    For the next 30 minutes they worked together to create a vision of their future and what they outlined was nothing short of impressive:

    Their vision for Takengon:
    1. Meet with the twelve cooperatives and Fair Trade exporters to discuss how to make coffee sustainable.
    2. Meet with government officials to discuss the creation of a legal and unified collective integrating all twelve cooperatives
    3. Raise awareness to members on making Fair Trade organic coffee locally sustainable
    4. With government support influence the education programs in the local university and high schools through the creation of seminars. 
    5. To invite educators and agricultural departments of the local university to the cooperatives
    Their vision for Aceh:
    1. Conduct a feasibility study about the viability of Fair Trade products in local markets
    2. Start a chain of franchised cafe's in major cities and universities in Aceh
    3. Promote the cafe chain in exhibits in and outside of Aceh
    4. Lobby local and provincial governments on integrating Fair Trade into local markets
    5. Conduct awareness raising campaigns on university campuses
    Their vision for Indonesia:
    1. Less than 0.01% of Indonesians are aware of Fair Trade. We need to promote Fair Trade via a multi-media campaign
    2. Lobby with big business such as hotels and supermarket chains to promote Indonesian Fair Trade products
    3. Join with the Indonesian Fair Trade Forum 
    4. Support the Yogya Fair Trade Movement
    With the above outlined at the local, provincial and national levels by farmer cooperatives in Aceh, it is my privilege to introduce the readers of this blog to the future of Fair Trade in the South:

    Thank you for joining Chou and I in this journey. It is my hope that I have been able to provide you with a glimpse of a vision for the future of Fair Trade, particularly if it is to be sustainable for Southern Fair Trade Organizations. 

     Mitch Teberg, MA


    1. A very powerful example and model for local Fair Trade sustainability. A challenge now is to see this model extended to other types of Fair Trade products.

      Thanks for this Mitch, much appreciated.

    2. I would very much like to know how this develops! I understand the meeting gave alot of momentum, but I know from experience myself that momentum and energy to act on ideas gets lost quickly once the daily routines kick in again!