The Kerinci Valley is home to more than 300,000 residents, most of whom are farmers, with 400 being smallholder coffee farmers, yet few people know about this place. Dubbed as the secret valley by the Dutch in the 1700’s, it was and is still considered a gem with rich volcanic soil and protective ecosystem. Located on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, nestled in the middle of a lush rainforest and national park, it’s greatest asset also acts as it’s biggest challenge -it’s only accessible by three roads.
Without proper support and infrastructure, coffee farmers are faced with the nearly impossible task of introducing their specialty coffee to a global market, not to mention access to quality resources. Thanks to an incredible effort by the conservation foundation, local co-op leadership and the dedication of Craig and Susan Owen, from Santiang Exports, Kerinci farmers have a chance.
Working Towards Economic Sustainability
Craig and Susan Owen, came to Sumatra 15 years ago and fell in love with the people. They decided to stay and raise their two girls there. Their dream was to make a difference, to use their talents to contribute to their community and give this farming community access to better wages. Sounds like a tall order, but putting their Agricultural Economics and Chemical Engineering degrees to good use, they began to work with the local community on creating sustainable economic development and environmental conservation initiatives.
In 2005, they started their company, Santiang Exports, because they saw a need to help coffee farmers, collectors, and processors gain access to a market that was difficult to access. Not just desiring to be another rung on the chain but committed to solving a problem that needed solving. To this day, their commitment to their partners has been unwavering. On one end, they strive to create traceability, quality, and consistency for their buyers. On the other end they are building an infrastructure for better wages by bringing a fair market value and creating access to better resources -they have built drying beds for farmers in one village and in another village, motivated the government to build processing facilities.
Working towards Environmental Sustainability
For Kerinci locals, being right in the middle of a National Park has had it's challenges. The Kerinci Seblat National Park is one of the largest protected areas in all of Southeast Asia. "It includes 5325 square miles of rainforest, volcanoes, mountains, wetlands, and rivers – that’s more protected forest than in all of Costa Rica and more than 1.5 times the size of Yellowstone. About 7 million people in Sumatra rely on the water sourced from these forests.” The city of Kerinci sits right in the middle of it, like a donut hole, and as the city grows, so have the tensions to encroach on those park boundaries. With only 3 roads in and out of the valley, many locals see this is as a detriment to their growth and survival.
Yet thanks to the work of the local conservation foundation called Lembaga Tumbuh Alami (LTA) run by husband and wife team, Pak Mulyadi and Ibu Emma, they have been working diligently to educate and shift thinking to help farmers understand that this protected land is actually helping the quality of their crops. Through years of relationship building the LTA has gained a level of trust and respect in that community. For coffee farmers, they act as a co-op, selling them seedlings at a reduced price and then, when the tree produces coffee, they give them back a fair market price. In turn, farmers promise not to encroach on national park land. This program has become incredibly successful with 400 smallholder farmers participating, which then enables them to actively participate in the specialty coffee market.
The Trouble Surrounding Wet-Hulled Coffee
So what about the coffee? Can this coffee be what breaks through the stigma surrounding traditional Indonesian coffee?
As Q Graders with years of experience, Craig and Susan know the challenges very well. Traditionally, wet-hulled coffees have been known to have a woody and even musty cup profile. However, the environmental conditions of Kerinci as well as the variation in processing quality can greatly affect the flavor.
As far as environment, this is best scenario for Sumatra. "The climate and elevation of the Kerinci Highlands is ideal for Arabica production. With the surrounding rainforests (something that other parts of Sumatra don’t benefit from) and the stabilizing effects on the weather and rain that rainforests bring, coffee ripens on the branch almost year round with two full harvests each year.”
And regarding quality, Craig and Susan work hard to improve quality controls and refine production processes. They work towards 100% hand-picked red cherries, precise drying, meticulous sorting and careful storing and shipping. The result- you won’t be disappointed! This coffee has sweet caramel and spicy cinnamon flavor notes as well as bright acidity not often found in Sumatran coffees, while still maintaining a rich full body.
This team is breaking new ground in the Indonesian specialty market. They are dedicated to raising the standard of Sumatran coffee and changing the stigma from musty to the cleanest Sumatran coffee you’ll ever have!
We are so honored to work with them! Join us as we support this amazing community and strive to create better wages for these hard working farming and processing families.
They may only have three roads but are open to a world of possibility.
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Written by Christine Matta - Integrated Marketer and Torch Staff Writer