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Coffee helping to conserve Aceh`s environment

24th June 2011 | 3.303 Views
Coffee helping to conserve Aceh`s environment
(ANTARA/Arief Priyono)
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - On a sunny afternoon at a coffee shop in Banda Aceh city, Aceh province, four men were engrossed in a lively discussion while another man sitting next to them was smiling while zipping a cup of black coffee.

In front of the four gentlemen lay four small plates of traditional cakes made from sticky rice, namely timpan and onde-onde.

That`s the usual view that one may find when visiting a joint named Mecca`s Terrace, Aceh province. Local people already had a coffee drinking tradition , even long before the present-day boom in modern coffee shops occurred.

Luckily the hobby is supported by the region`s high coffee production from hundreds of thousands of hectares of coffee plantations existing in the province.

However, there is increasing concern about the fact that local farmers have started to chop down trees in the forest to open new plantations. According to them, such action was necessary because the soil in existing plantations is gradually losing its fertility - a condition having a negative impact on the quality of the crops. The problem is that opening forest areas for plantations was against the principle of nature conservation which has now become a focus of international attention.

Responding to the concern, an NGO named Conservation International (CI) Indonesia has since three years ago been introducing the "Conservation Coffee" system to coffee farmers in Takengon, Aceh Tengah district, which is one of the biggest exporters of arabica coffee along with Bener Meriah district with a total production of 65 tons per year.

The term "Conservation Coffee" itself refers to a system of work that allows farmers to not only improve the quality of their product but also support global efforts to save the environment.

"Since 2009, CI has provided capacity building trainings for coffee farmers in Takengon such as how to use natural ingredients as fertilizer and the technique of cutting down the coffee tree`s stem to boost the production of coffee fruit in the future," Publication Coordinator for CI Indonesia Fachruddin Mangunjaya said.

Why did CI choose coffee plantations in Takengon as the area of their pilot project? Located in the highland area of Gayo (1,200 meters above sea level), coffee from Takengon has risen to fame for its complex flavor and thick texture. In fact, according to the cupping test system introduced by Erna Knutsen since 1974, arabica coffee from Takengon is categorized as good coffee earning the point of 86 to 90 out of 100.

"With such development, there is also a risk of deforestation ahead because coffee plantation is estimated to last for 30 years but then the soil gradually loses its fertility and that`s when farmers start to open new plantation field in the forest," Fachruddin said.

He said capacity building trainings that has been given to the farmer in Takengon aims to intensify the quality of the soil and coffee tree in the plantation. "With fertile soil farmers will no longer plan to penetrate new field to be made as plantation," he said.

Meanwhile, CI`s local project coordinator Saodah Lubis stated apart from helping farmers improving the quality of their coffee trees, CI also encouraged farmers to plant inter cropping plants such as orange, chili and shade trees to gain added values.

"Basically coffee tree must not be directly exposed by the sunlight or else the growth may be interrupted. Previously farmers used to plant lamtoro as shade tree but recently we introduce mahoni and sengon tree to the farmers with consideration that the latter have better price when sold," she said.

She said having inter cropping plants in the coffee plantation, the farmers indirectly help the government in implementing conservation program to tackle the negative impacts of climate change.

Many farmers have already stated their positive impression towards the "Conservation Coffee" program conducted in takengon. Hasbullah, a coffee farmer from Bebesen village, stated the organic fertilizer system makes the coffee trees grow healthier and produce a good quality of fruit. "I also don`t have to buy chemical-based fertilizer anymore, that saves the production cost," he said.

Meanwhile Primanis, a farmer from Pegasing village, said before following CI`s program, he and the other coffee farmers were used to run the plantation in a traditional way. "Now after getting the knowledge about the best fertilizer for the coffee trees and the technique to pick the fruit, I feel that the quality of coffee fruits from my plantation improved," he said.

Support from local government

Recently Aceh province`s Governor Irwandi Yusuf expressed his support towards the conservation program for coffee plantation in Aceh Tengah district. He said the program was relevant considering that the area along with Bener Meriah district were the biggest producer of arabica coffee with the total of coffee plantation reaching 83,000 hectares.

"Arabica coffee from Aceh Tengah has been known worldwide. Apart from being proud of this achievement, we must also keep developing the business while considering the principal of conservation," he said.

According to the governor, the Conservation Coffee program was very related to the government`s target to reduce carbon emission and tackle the negative impacts of climate change.

"Based on a research, one hectare of coffee tree is able to absorb 8.07 tons of Carbon per year. The number is higher than the average ability of other plants to absorb Carbon namely by 1.5-3.5 tons per year. Therefore apart from giving financial benefit to the farmers, coffee plantation also helps conserve the nature by reducing carbon toxic from the air," he said.