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Good news, bad news on fairtrade cashews and ethical coffee cultivation project in Indonesia

Tony Whitten's picture

Wabou villagers holding some of their Gracilaria seaweed. The seaweed cultivation allows them now to work for less time and for a significantly greater return, and they no longer turn to the forest for sources of income.  See full photo gallery.
Last spring I visited Buton in SE Sulawesi and blogged (and bragged) about the fairtrade cashews and ethical coffee being produced under conservation contracts in our project there.  Just before Christmas I went back for the final supervision together with Judith Schleicher and Sumaryo Sumardjo from our Washington and Jakarta offices respectively.  We found things to celebrate as well as unexpected problems. 

On this supervision mission we concentrated on two aspects: the success of the project in meeting its objectives over the last four years, and how the positive outcomes can be sustained without the funds that have been provided under the project.  The end of a project is always a difficult time because the Bank's assistance has allowed so much to happen, and so much to be achieved, but now, as I repeated in meeting after meeting, "You're on your own".  Of course, this is not entirely true because I will keep tabs on what happens in the months and years ahead and help where needed and possible, but the Global Environment Facility (GEF) money is exhausted (as planned).

We had scarcely caught our breath after the four-hour boat ride from the provincial capital than we were whisked away to a workshop with government agencies to discuss 'Developing a Post-Project Sustainability Strategy for Lambusango Forest Conservation'. Good news: in the main I was very struck by how well engaged the local government staff were, how they spoke positively about the activities and outputs of the project, how institutions and processes had been solidly adopted, and how many of them had ideas for how the outcomes would be sustained. 

In particular, confidence in apprehending forest criminals seems to have been gained (with arrests increasing markedly and then dropping as the risks of getting caught increased). Sadly, the District Head or Bupati of Buton had a family engagement in Jakarta while we were in Buton, but we'll catch up with him at some later date to thank him for all his solid support and conviction that the Lambusango forests must be properly managed and that the Sub-District Heads must take responsibility for the forest's integrity.

One of the most positive activities under the project has been the introduction of alternative livelihoods of Gracilaria seaweed cultivation to villages near the coast where before the men had generally farmed up against the forest edge and were involved in illegal logging and rattan extraction. The seaweed cultivation allows them now to work for less time and for a significantly greater return, and they no longer turn to the forest for sources of income.

We paid our first visit to Wakoukili, the village an hour outside BauBau, the main town on Buton, where the project's Jungle Coffee is grown. We slipped and slid our way to see the customary forest which the village's traditional leaders manage and from which no tree may be taken without permission, and on the way saw the coffee groves. The Potentially Bad News is that in the credit crunch Britain's students are buying less ethical coffee and the quantities of Jungle Coffee being sold in Britain's National Union of Students outlets are less than was hoped. The distributor is looking for other channels. The project has learned so much about pricing and the project is now sharing its experiences with other groups around the world who are producing food and other goods under conservation contracts.

With a bit more support this could all really take off - luckily Operation Wallacea  will continue to bring 300 students a year to Lambusango from the UK, US and Indonesian universities who help to monitor conservation progress, and the local NGO offshoot, Operation Wallacea Trust headed by Dr Edi Purwanto will remain active on Buton for at least another three years to advise and encourage because it won another World Bank contract to manage part of the Green Kecamatan Development project (pdf).   The social highlight of the visit was an event and entertainment of traditional music and dancing put on by the Wakoukili leaders and villagers after which I presented the Village Head and Traditional Leader with packets of the Jungle Coffee.  A film of both the customary forest and the event is available on YouTube.

We found Really Bad News when we visited the community cooperative in Matanauwe, our main cashew village. Having got everything set up with regard to the Fairtrade certification and export, there were great hopes that the cashew crop of late 2008 would find its way to supermarket shelves in the UK. The crop totally bombed. Heavy rains fell when the trees flowered and virtually no cashews were produced anywhere on the island. The community leaders told us how this was a real freak, happening perhaps only once every 20 years. One can but hope and pray that the 2009 crop will be a bumper one.


Great blog post, thank you. It was disappointing to read that Britain's students are buying less ethical coffee and the quantities of Jungle Coffee being sold in Britain's National Union of Students outlets are less than was hoped. From everything that I have read, the purchase of Fairtrade products in the UK is still holding strong despite the downturn in the economy... Let’s hope that is the case. Best of luck to Jungle Coffee and to your cashew farmers in 2009.

Submitted by Marea Hatziolos on
Hi, Tony--thanks for this interesting account of traditional farmers turned seaweed farmers. I have two questions: 1.Typically, seaweed farming is done by women, who are usually involved in some aspect of small scale fishing. I was surprised to learn that seaweed farming in Indonesia (or perhaps just in your pilot site) is done by men. In Tanzania and the Philippines, it is typically carried by women. This raises another question, which is the extent to which these traditional (terrestrial) farmers in your study area might be displacing fishers in the community who are also likely looking for alternatives and ways to exit the fishery due to overcapacity. Any observations on these two points?? Thanks, Marea

Submitted by Ajith on
Dear Tony, Its great to hear your attempt to conserved the forest with introduction altrenative livelihood for the local community. We also try to introduce seaweed cultivation for coastal community who live along side the eastern part of the Sri Lanka. Actually these community has gone through a long period of war now the conflict has end they are consider brings back to their lost economy in this context we try to introduce seaweed cultivation has enviornment sustain instead of over exploit forest and marin sources as their traditional practices. Would like to share some experience that we have been achieve here our target grop is women. Best wishes, Ajith

Interesting to read about introducing seaweed. IFC did the same on Nias Island, off of North Sumatra. The seaweed farmers were part-time fishermen and their wives; an even 50-50 gender split. Unfortunately the project failed; Nias could not produce seaweed competitively and social problems in the villages made it unworkable. However, in Aceh (see the recent post on shrimp farming in Aceh) we successfully introduced seaweed to shrimp ponds, an innovation that I expect to be permanent.

Hello, just a quick note from the admins. to let you know that Tony is currently on mission and will have little or no access to the internet over the next few weeks. So please keep those comments coming in, just understand it will take a bit of time until he can get to them. Thank you.

Dear Patrick Here is a photo courtesy of Fergus Walsh of Wicked Coffee, (Jungle Coffee's distributor) of a student at Sheffield Hallam University Students' Union so be assured that there is movement. There has also been some price adjustment which is helping too. Also, Operation Wallacea are engaged in some very interesting discussions with major outlets in the UK (and a significant one in the US) and I hope they will post a comment here as soon as there is something to announce.

Dear David Thanks for this news. I'll get the team in Buton to get in touch with you to learn more about the seaweed-in-ponds in Aceh success and to learn their experience.

Thanks Marea On the brief visits Judith and I paid to the project's seaweed villages over two missions we saw only men engaged in the activity. I'm no seaweed expert but certainly when I lived in Bali and occasionally wandered around seaweed cutlivation areas both men and women were engaged. I'll ask Edi Purwanto the Project Manager to contact you on this. On your second point, I am not aware of any level of displacement. The only irritation/dispalcement I know of caused by the seaweed is that the (now former) illegal loggers found that the long seaweed strings snagged the propellors of the botas taking logs off the island.

Great experience, Tony. I remember the seaweed industry in Guimaras, Philippines. Unfortunately, their industry was totally destroyed by the oil spill disaster which involved one of Petron's oil tankers. The seaweed industry there used to rake in millions of income each year. Fishing and seaweed propagation have always been their way of life and I felt frustrated with what happened to their lives. It's a loss that Petron will never be able to pay back. Regards, David

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