Farmer Training Essential to Fight Climate Change Impacts

Joanne Sonenshine recently traveled to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to join Starbucks’ annual Origin Experience trip, which sends select employees to places of coffee origin to learn about coffee production, sourcing and farming. Read her previous blog from this trip.

Coffee berries in Indonesia — site of Starbucks' recent Origin Experience trip.

Coffee berries in Indonesia — site of Starbucks’ recent Origin Experience trip. (© CI/photo by Fazrin Rahmadani)

You know the idiom: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Passing on knowledge is one of the best gifts one can give.

I thought about this as Carlos Mario Rodriguez — Starbucks’ director of global agronomy — and I went to visit a number of villages in Sumatra’s Diari district west of Lake Toba. We were there to meet with farmers and understand the training and capacity-building CI is leading in the region, which aims to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change (PDF–334.05 KB). This work has been made possible thanks to a generous grant from Starbucks itself.

Carlos Mario walked with my colleagues and me through a number of coffee farms of different sizes, conditions and productivity levels. He spent hours listening to the farmers and sharing with them his recommendations for keeping coffee berry pests at bay, managing low water supplies and planting shade trees in time for a productive harvest, among other things.

Whether the farmers knew it or not, they were being taught to “fish” (or in this case, farm) by one of the foremost experts in coffee farming in the world. It was a humbling experience for me to witness, especially since Carlos Mario told me several times how important it is for him to help farmers improve their lives.

Carlos Mario is part of a team operating Starbucks’ Farmer Support Centers — regional hubs that aim to provide local farmers with the resources and expertise that help lower the cost of production, reduce fungal infections, improve coffee quality and increase the yield of premium coffees. The results are clear: Starbucks has a history of supporting farmers, helping them grow their business, build communities and protect the environment. There is evidence through Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices program that these approaches yield higher quality and more abundant coffee. (Learn more in this factsheet (PDF–1.12 MB)).

Fazrin Rahmadani, Conservation International’s Sumatra program manager, and Rama Saragih, a consultant working with CI in Diairi, managed to corral local farmers, one of the village leaders and the leader of the cooperative working with CI on farmer extension programs in one room. Nearly 20 of us sat in a circle and asked questions, had a discussion and shared information on coffee growing, climate change, pest prevention, composting, shade tree planting and productivity, in English and Bahasa.

During the recent Starbucks Origin Experience trip to Indonesia, coffee farmers and Starbucks "partners" (employees) discussed coffee growing techniques and challenges.

During the recent Starbucks Origin Experience trip to Indonesia, coffee farmers and Starbucks “partners” (employees) discussed coffee growing techniques and challenges. (© CI/photo by Joanne Sonenshine)

I found that the free-flowing, honest and riveting conversation allowed me to better understand what training and capacity-building is needed in this region, and what CI can do to improve our investment. For example, small farming communities need more education from agronomists or other farming experts. They want to understand how seasonal changes may impact their yield. They also need to sharpen their pricing skills and be able to communicate directly with exporters.

My perspective may be a little different than that of the farmers, but I came home feeling empowered to spread knowledge far and wide so that these conversations between Starbucks and local Sumatran farmers can become as easy as catching a fish.

Joanne Sonenshine is the director of food, agriculture and fresh water in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. To learn more about CI’s work on climate change and adaption strategies in Indonesia, stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog from CI-Indonesia’s Fazrin Rahmadani.

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