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Focus on Timor-Leste

November 2007

A Disastrous Year for Coffee

In the hills dominating the Timor landscape where farmers grow some of the world's most distinctive coffee, there is a sad lament this year: "No rains. No money."

photoThe farmers growing not only coffee but also vegetables.

Just when one coffee growers cooperative was looking forward to good times, nature struck. The farmers had been expecting to export 25 tons of the highest grade coffee to Japan. Instead, because the annual rains were low and late, they will probably ship just 10 tons.

"It was a disaster," according to Tomoaki Kanamaru, the country representative of the Japanese nongovernmental organization Peace Winds Japan which has been working with this particular group of farmers for several years. "This was beyond our control. But agriculture is always cyclical and the farmers learn to absorb setbacks and bounce back."

Since 2006, as part of its efforts to work closely with Japanese NGOs, JICA has been financing a three-year Peace Winds Japan coffee project.

The organization helped establish a coffee growers cooperative covering six villages and 233 households in Timor's Ermera district.

It is now strengthening the cooperative's ability to grow more and better grade coffee beans, replacing old coffee trees and strengthening the farmers marketing system. Peace Winds Japan also encouraged the villagers to diversify into secondary vegetable production, revenue from which protects them in down years such as 2007 for coffee production.

Major Exporter

Coffee is Timor's second largest export after petroleum. Most of the estimated 4,000-5,000 tons goes to the United States, but Peace Winds Japan has helped establish a niche market in Japan, both because the Timor coffee has a distinctive taste and because the NGO has promoted a 'Fair Trade' system.

Under this project the International Fair Trade Association, an umbrella group of organizations in more than 70 countries, defines fair trade as reflecting "concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers" and "does not maximize profit at their expense."

photoThe Timor coffee, still not ripe.

In other words, small scale coffee producers in Timor, for instance, are given genuine access to the Japanese market to sell their products competitively and at good prices.

Before the Peace Winds Japan project began Timor had never exported coffee to Japan.

Japanese specialists say the high grade Timor coffee has a 'mellow, fruity taste' which is easy on the stomach of drinkers.

Tomoaki Kanamaru agrees. "It is the best of the best," he said recently. "I drink it every morning."

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