Saturday 27 October 2012

Progress at KOMIT, Kota Agung

removing wet beans from the cocoa pods
After a day acclimatising in Jakarta, we set off to Lampung, to visit the WWF guys and Komit project (see March 3rd post). The harvest has been poor this year in Lampung – it has been really very dry – and it was weird to see what should be tropical verdancy looking a little lack lustre – dry river beds, dry unhappy looking cocoa trees, empty fish ponds outside people’s houses (domestic fish farming rather than ornamental). The cocoa beans are small and not good – so harvest has been poor and unrewarding. There are still a few months more to go – but unless there is rain soon it might be more of the same.

We had hoped to visit Tampang – a village on the peninsula; the only way to get there is by a 3-hour boat ride. I was looking forward to this, but on the morning we were due to depart we heard that our plans had changed. There was a boat going – but none returning until Saturday – Friday is a big Muslim holiday here – so no boat even on Thursday the day before. Another time maybe.

drying unfermented beans
The project has been trying to encourage individual farmers to increase the value of their crop by fermenting their beans on their own farms. However, for a number of reasons they have proved reluctant to do this. At present they just remove beans from the pod, lay them out in the sun for one or two days until they are dried. For this if they take the beans to the trader, they can get IR19,000 per kg (current US commodity price is equivalent to IR24,000/kg for fermented beans). If they ferment the beans, it is an additional minimum 6 days work – 5 or 6 days to ferment, and time to dry. And often traders are not prepared to pay any extra for fermented beans and if they do it will be about IR21,000 if they are lucky. For most farmers this is not worth the extra work or indeed the delay in getting paid for the beans; cash flow is a real problem for subsistence farmers and often the need for immediate cash will override the potential of a better price in the future.

fermentation boxes ready to go
So, what would make a difference? The cocoa industry here is investing in a range of programmes around sustainability to essentially keep farmers in cocoa. To do this, farmers have to get more reward for their cocoa, and the business sees this as coming through better management of cocoa trees as well as fermenting to increase value.

So, if farmers won’t ferment for themselves, why not get someone else to do it? The model emerging is for processing centres to buy wet beans (beans removed from the pod) and then the fermentation is done in one unit, well managed, producing a high quality product. This model is proving popular with farmers where it is in place, and we visited one such community.

KOMIT are planning to establish their own processing plant following this model. Training has been provided to a number of farmers and two will manage the two centres. Mr Tukiman showed us the fermentation boxes he has prepared at Pemerihan village, and the site where the processing plant will be. This village is on the edge of the national park, and those farmers on the park side of the road have given up managing their cocoa as it attracts elephants! Another village we visited had lost 4 goats to a tiger – driven into the village farms by the drought. So living next to a National Park has serious implications, and the projects aim to work with farmers to improve their livehoods is important.

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