Muhlisin then returned home to begin growing his own coffee in 2012 with the methods and tools he acquired during his education. However, coffee prices were low at the time, forcing other producers to rely on other crops. Pak, on the other hand, sought to obtain higher prices for the producers in this region. This required him to venture into larger cities such as Jakarta, to locate markets he could sell to in order to optimize the potential of the coffee from Argopuro.
Over time, he created relationships with various roasters in Jakarta, willing to pay higher prices for coffee from this pristine region of East Java. As his income began to increase, other producers followed suit, planting newer varietals, and practicing different processing methods.
Muhlisin and the producers associated with the Pokmas Walida Cooperative are supported by Belift, a coalition of coffee professionals seeking to improve the income of producers in Indonesia. The group is comprised of three young men, originally from Indonesia, who studied in the US, only to return to their home country to open their own coffee shop and roastery in 2015. This then expanded to a coffee academy in 2017 whereby they began to work more closely with producers.
They are developing unique relationships with coffee producers specifically in the Central and East Java region, to showcase the hard work of coffee producers throughout this infamous region. Belift are also educating producers about newer processing methods to help incorporate more Indonesian farms into the specialty market. The work conducted by Belift is creating a future for coffee production in Indonesia and lending support to the improvement of coffee-producing communities.
Indonesia has been exporting coffee since 1711, when the Dutch East India Company sent its first shipment from Java to Europe. The crop was profitable for many exporters and importers: less so for the country’s producers. In 1960, the novel ‘Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company’ was published, outlining the abuses endorsed by the Colonial Dutch system. The novel transformed the labour system and even provided inspiration for the first Fair Trade label.
Indonesia’s production was originally nearly 100% Arabica until, in the 1870s, coffee leaf rust decimated production. Farmers slowly replaced Arabica with robusta, and today, although Indonesia is a significant coffee producing country – the fifth largest in the world behind Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Vietnam – only around 25% of production is Arabica.