Lesser known coffee variety almost as profitable as oil palm in Sumatra’s peatlands

Scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre have found that the Excelsa coffee species, grown in agroforestry systems in the peatlands of Sumatra, Indonesia, comes close to matching the profitability of oil palm and causes far less environmental impact.

coffee sumatra

Excelsa coffee. Photo: Jasnari

Massive land conversion is occurring on the island of Sumatra as oil palm production expands, leaving a trail of forest destruction and land degradation. This is not only threatening the livelihoods of people who live off the peatlands but also dramatically increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

In a poster presented at the 6th International Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference, Muhammad Sofiyuddin, Agroforestry Economist, with the World Agroforestry Centre demonstrates how coffee agroforestry could be a viable livelihood alternative which also conserves Sumatra’s peatlands.

Together with colleagues, Sofiyuddin studied livelihood sources, farming systems and land management practices among farmers in the district of Tanjung Jabung Barat in Jambi Province, Sumatra.

“We found that farmers who grow Excelsa coffee on peat are earning almost as much as those growing oil palm, with coconut agroforestry systems only slightly less profitable,” explains Sofiyuddin. “And 65 per cent of the farmers we surveyed said they preferred mixed farming systems, which in this area are primarily coffee agroforests.”

In Tanjung Jabung Barat district there are 2 distinct categories of residents, known as old migrants and recent migrants. The old migrants came to the area during the 1940s and 1950s mostly from Sulawesi and Kalimantan. Their highest source of income (64 per cent) is from agroforestry. More recent migrants arrived during the 1980s and 1990s under the Indonesian Government’s transmigration program linked to the development of large-scale oil palm plantations. Oil palm is the highest source of income (54 per cent) for recent migrants.

The scientists found the average daily income of old migrants who practice agroforestry (UD $3.60) is slightly higher than that of recent migrants who are growing oil palm (US $3.10).

Until the 1990s coconut was the main commodity grown in the district, but with falling productivity and prices, farmers began to intercrop coffee with coconut and betelnut.

Farmers grow the lesser known coffee species, Coffea dewevrei (Excelsa coffee) which is more profitable on peat than other species of coffee such as Arabica (Coffea arabica) or Robusta (Coffea canephora) and fetches higher prices. Excelsa coffee is able to produce beans just 3 and a half years after planting in the district.

To further improve the livelihoods of farmers practicing coffee agroforestry, Sofiyuddin says there is a need to provide access to a wider market for Excelsa coffee and higher prices.

“Eco-certification is one option that would strengthen the bargaining position of Excelsa coffee in organic markets,” says Sofiyuddin.

Download the poster:

Sofiyuddin M, Janudianto, Jasnari, Khususiyah N. (2013). Coffee-based agroforestry as an alternative to improve local livelihoods in peat landscapes of Sumatra. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program.


Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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