Over the past few days, I have travelled to many of the sub-regions and collection points which form the Simalungun supply chain. I have also talked to lots of farmers regarding the current difficulties faced with supply.
I had the opportunity to talk to around 120 members of the Talenta co-operative which supplies coffee to the Simalungun mill. Such a large gathering of co-operative members was great to see — and rare in Sumatra. This kind of organisation has a direct impact on cup quality and ensures farmers can produce premium parchment all year round. I was able to give a very short presentation to these members and encourage them about the quality of last season’s Simalungun coffee. I also showed them some of the marketing material for the Simalungun. Coffee produced by the sub-regions of Simalumgun has never been marketed adequately and it usually ends up as commercial versions of Mandheling or even Lintong. When I showed the co-operative members the marketing material and evidence that their coffee was being promoted specifically as Simalungun, the buzz and excitement throughout the co-op was amazing to witness.
This meeting also led into a small Q & A session. Prior to the meeting, I was warned about the most obvious question they would ask — and, right on cue, the first farmer to take the microphone asked it. Coffee prices in Sumatra are currently extremely low. Many farmers are unable to earn enough to pay basic labour costs, let alone maintain a farm in a sustainable way. In short, these low prices lead to less expenditure on farm maintenance, less frequent harvesting (resulting in lower quality parchment) and, in extreme cases, farm abandonment and even replanting with short term crops like cabbage, chilli and sweet potato. I am not experienced enough to offer my opinion on world coffee prices, but my advice to them and this farmer was pretty simple; continue to work with the Simalungun facility (who offer higher premiums) and keep quality as high as possible. This ensures they can continue to supply the specialty market while they ride out the low market prices.
In the current market (and in high markets too, for that matter) small premiums make a big difference to farmers. By supporting our Simalungun mill, we are ensuring that farmers receive an above-average market rate for quality parchment in some tough times. Further to this, the Simalungun training facility is nearing completion and will act as the main training hub. Training for such things as harvesting practices, pest management, cupping and roasting will start very soon and offer the region some much needed expertise. All the farmers I asked are very excited to have this facility available and I’m hopeful that Five Senses can actively support the Simalungun training facility in some way going forward — exact details to be confirmed.
Having great contacts on the ground in Simalungun has been the key for the success of this project. In an otherwise unpredictable coffee landscape, some great things are developing for Simalungun and the growing region. This is very exciting for Simalungun, Five Senses — and for you lovers of Sumatran coffee out there.