How Sumatra Coffee Aids Disaster Recovery

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Cooperative Coffees roaster-members Joe Lozano of Third Coast Coffee and Derek de la Paz of Peace Coffee survey a Permata Gayo coffee farm

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Picture yourself in the Sumatran jungle of North Indonesia, a crescendo of mountains shooting up from the sea where many locals’ lives depend on the coffee industry. This is one of the most beautifully lush regions of the world but fraught with historical mistreatment that lead to separatist fighting since 1976.

The region called Aceh is historically home to the Gayonese people. In their language, “gayo” is derived from Sanskrit, meaning mountain. The region’s farmers formed the Permata Gayo coffee cooperative in 2006 after the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami left communities flattened by 100-foot waves and caused fighting parties to lay down their arms in 2004, allowing people to return to their homes and abandoned coffee farms after decades of war and sabotage. According to the L.A. Times, more than 230,000 people died in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India as result of the tsunami. The Aceh region, where coffee farming is one of the most stable economic activities, lost almost 170,000 people. After repeat applications for government assistance were met with no response, they invested in Organic and Fair Trade certification and improved quality to meet the needs of the international specialty coffee market.

Bill Harris of Cafe Campesino hanging out with the kids of Permata Gayo coffee farmers in Sumatra
Bill Harris of Café Campesino hanging out with the kids of Permata Gayo coffee farmers in Sumatra

In 2014, after ten years of international aid and resources pouring in from all over the world to help them rebuild, the organizations overseeing their recovery and infrastructure have packed up and left, leaving many without jobs. Meanwhile, Permata Gayo has grown from 50 to 3,000 farmers today, actively creating a more prosperous life for their communities. Farming makes up for one-third of Aceh’s economy and one-half of its employment.

Fair Trade premiums create extra money for farmers to reinvest in their communities. Agricultural tools, seating and hospitality supplies for local events such as weddings, microphones for big meetings and cemetery plots have all been purchased through Fair Trade premiums. Farming villages have purchased kits with machetes, shovels, saws, and weed cutting machines. Because weeds can host pests and spread coffee diseases, these machines keep coffee farms healthy without the use of chemicals. This technology is reducing the use of chemical herbicides by 95%.

Sumatran woman sorting green coffee at Permata Gayo.
Local women fill essential roles in Permata Gayo communities, and are responsible for quality-control sorting of green coffee beans.

As the heads of coffee farming households, women learn financial management skills in empowerment programs and are encouraged to apply for microloans through Permata Gayo to provide stability between harvests.

The region’s ideal coffee-growing environment underlies the long history and quality reputation of Gayo coffee, with sweet, earthy notes of butterscotch, cinnamon, green pepper and red fruit. Our Viennese (meaning “medium-dark”) and French Roasts leave the beans coated in a sheen of natural oils.

Aceh’s volcanic soil can be very productive, but over-farming and pollution can cause erosion, which farmers learn about in programs that teach soil conservation and safe waste disposal. Overall, Permata Gayo is setting a beautiful example for how to overcome humanity’s harshest setbacks and come together for the kind of prosperity that spreads far and wide.

That’s the resilient spirit of the revered Gayo mountain people who grow Permata Gayo’s coffee crops. Permata Gayo represents the farmers’ hope for a peaceful future, prosperity, and careful stewardship of the natural environment.


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Every cup of Permata Gayo Sumatra you drink at home will connect you with the Gayo land & its people.

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February 7, 2018
BY Café Campesino
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