Aceh, one of the largest coffee producing regions of the world is beginning to rebuild - literally. Rebuild the infrastructure that caused the coffee co-ops to grind to a halt when the tsunami hit last year.
"If there was an effect the tsunami had," said Mike Ferguson, Chief Communications Officer for the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) a California-based trade association, "it was on the infrastructure and getting coffee out of the country."
The highlands around Aceh produce about 40 percent of Indonesia’s premium Arabica coffee and 90 percent of the country’s Robusta crop. Because the tsunami floodwaters that killed an estimated 263,100 did not reach the highlands where the coffee cooperatives are located, the highlands weren’t impacted like the coastal region, according to Ian Diamondstone, a general manager at ForesTrade.
ForesTrade, a leading supplier of organic coffee in the United States, works in conjunction with farmers at the co-ops in the Aceh province. "People were really rallying together," he said. "For weeks after the tsunami, groups of farmers would travel together in a makeshift caravan down to the coast and ship their coffee." At one point after the tsunami, it took more than 20 hours to drive 180 miles because of the narrow roads, detours and bridges that had been washed away.
The city of Banda Aceh itself was left in ruins; buildings were destroyed and debris was washed throughout the city and more than 500,000 people were without homes. Ports were clogged with shipments of aid and relief and trying to export anything became difficult. This caused many of the homeless or internally displaced people to search for jobs, homes and security elsewhere.
With no place to live and nothing to do, thousands of coastal residents migrated to the highlands - where the coffee farming jobs were abundant and life went on virtually uninterrupted.
"When it comes to cash crops and countries in desperate need of money, people will gravitate to where the jobs are," according to Judy Ganes of J. Ganes Consulting, a New York based commodities analyst. "There were so many homeless and in need of work."
In addition to the province of Aceh, farmers on Sumatra, Bali, Java and Mentawi began to see a huge influx of workers following the tsunami. Whether it was directly from the disaster or from the peace accord that was signed several months after - ending the longest-running armed conflict in Indonesia, there are more than enough workers farming the co-operatives now.
Mike Ferguson is happy to report coffee from the highlands is now making it to port on time, and that any delays caused by the tsunami have been sorted out, which he simply describes as a "good thing."
Images courtesy of blork.typepad.com, tear.org.au, and wataru.co.jp
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