Indonesia: Fighting Mother Nature
Southeast Asia and the islands throughout Indonesia have been in the news a lot these days. Whether it's an earthquake, tsunami, cyclone or flood, Sumatra and dozens of other coffee producing countries in the Indian Ocean are making headlines.
Last month Sumatra had two quakes that rocked the region – the first measuring 5.7, the later measuring 5.9 on the Richter Scale. This isn't the first or the last earthquake Sumatra has felt since the December 26, 2004 earthquake that triggered the historic tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people. Since then, more than 20 earthquakes have been logged by the USGS. And while there aren't significant reports of damage according to geologists, some of the coffee farmers in the region are fearful that the tsunami of 2004 may repeat itself.
"Every time there's an earthquake people head for the hills," according to Ian Diamondstone who works for ForesTrade in Sumatra. "And understandably so. Fear has become a daily part of their lives."
Many of these farmers are just getting back on their feet because a large portion of the infrastructure that ForesTrade and other coffee co-ops use to move coffee beans to the coast was damaged in 2004. Earthquakes, regardless of their severity, don't have a direct effect on the crops, but on the coffee trade itself - especially in Sumatra where the infrastructure is in vast need of improvement already.
Jusman Syafi'I Djamal, the Indonesian Transport Minister has estimated that Indonesia itself needs to invest more than $36 billion over the next decade to bring its infrastructure and transportation system up to snuff. Because so many of Indonesia's farms, specifically coffee co-ops are in mountainous, heavily forested areas, it makes re-construction difficult. Humanitarian organizations throughout Indonesia have worked tirelessly since 2004 rebuilding the infrastructure – that includes hospitals, schools, homes, bridges and highways. Unfortunately, just as projects are completed, there's another disaster. Diamondstone said it's a huge disappointment for the people in Indonesia to finally get their lives back together, finish a building, a road or a bridge and then have it destroyed.
In Aceh, one of the hardest hit regions by the tsunami, rebuilding has become part of everyday life. The highlands in Aceh produce about 40 percent of Indonesia's premium Arabica coffee and 90 percent of the country's Robusta crop. Although the floodwaters didn't reach the farms, they were greatly impacted by the lack of transportation to the coast. Diamondstone said some regional coffee prices have increased more than 30% a pound. "Shipping costs alone have increased from $3,500 a container to $5,500 a container and that means an increase to our clients."
Ultimately, Diamondstone hopes that coffee lovers won't balk at rising prices, but recognize why they've increased. "People nowadays are definitely more conscientious. We hope they understand where their money is going – helping build sustainable communities."