Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Role Coffee Plays In Javan Gibbon Conservation

 Written by: Benehad Gabriel Yosep Ruritan | Email : 

Who is SwaraOwa?

Back in August 2020, I enrolled myself in an internship program with SwaraOwa. A non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on the conservation work for Indonesian primates, especially Gibbon, the small apes. Swaraowa means a gibbon voice in Javanese.

The history of SwaraOwa led by Arif Setiawan originally started  in 2008, when he runs the project in Mt. Slamet Central Java, for Endangered Primate Conservation Project, this project supported by Rufford Foundation. Then -a supported project named "Coffee and Primate Conservation" in 2012 with the objective of Javanese gibbon's habitat preservation in Petungkriyono District located in the western part of Dieng Mountain.

The coffee part of the name came from the approach that was taken by the team in creating a compromise between the residents' needs and the conservation objective of the project.  Coffee naturally grows beneath the cover of the rainforest in which the Javanese gibbon resides. And thus. Coffee cultivation and production work to redirect the local's of Sokokembang from forest damaging economic activities and into the preservation of the forest via sustainable economic development. And as of now, some amount of coffee from Petungkriyono is managed and distributed by OwaCoffee, a subsidiary of SwaraOwa.

OwaCoffee For SwaraOwa

I was assigned to the OwaCoffee activity during the internship program. This coffee program of SwaraOwa has become quite a success story. Over the years, it has fostered relationships with several zoos worldwide, such as the Singapore Zoo, Fort Wayne Children's Zoo and  Zoo Ostrava.  Through this coffee program, SwaraOwa enables itself to be self-sustainable and empowers the residents of the Sokokembang Village, seen from the growth of farming groups and infrastructure improvement the area has received over the years.

I met Dr. Muhammad Ali Imron from the Gadjah Mada University Forestry Faculty, which explained that most Indonesian NGOs inherits the problem of self-sustainability due to how they were founded.  Specifically, most NGOs grew from a time and funding limited project into an ongoing program. This condition hampers the transition process and induces financial problems in the future. SwaraOwa’s ability to be self-sustainable through its OwaCoffee program has been quite the inspiration to many other NGOs in Indonesia.

Predicaments Faced By OwaCoffee

However, the operation of OwaCoffee is not as smooth as it may seem. As lined out by Saladin Akbar from the BlackJava roastery located in Yogyakarta, the problem faced by this organization can be divided into three major categories, which are: farming, production, and distribution. 

 In farming, they face the need to educate local farmers of Petungkriyono in increasing their quality of coffee cherries, which in itself is no easy task knowing the deep level of intricacies revolving around coffee plantation such as managing the ground condition, understanding the need of the plants, knowing what and when to harvest. 

"the jungle beans" gibbon friendly coffee -  OwaCoffee

 While production includes everything post-harvest, this includes grading, hulling, storage, roasting, and many others, which greatly plays into the quality of the finished product. Lastly is the distribution, which talks about public intake of the product. Currently, single-origin coffee only makes a small percentage of Indonesian coffee consumption. 

 Akrom, the owner of Mari-ngopi a  coffee shop in Yogyakarta, informed me that the lack of specialty coffee absorption is due to the condition that Indonesians do not need specialty coffee. The masses are satisfied with the commercialized and easy to drink coffee mixers, which does not require high-grade coffee to be enjoyed.  This condition caused SwaraOwa to look for new ways for their coffee, the ex-situ distribution efforts, such as creating a bond with the Singaporean Zoo to market their products.

During my internship, I found SwaraOwa to be particularly ingenious.  Their ability to utilize Petungkriyono’s coffee as a medium to converse the Javanese primates, utilizing local empowerment through coffee plantations, was a breakthrough by itself. Through this kind of collaboration, sustainability was provided for the conservation activity that many have never recognized. SwaraOwa has ensured the continuity of the program via a separate entity, namely OwaCoffee that has a high interest in the market.

From this experience, I found out that conservation activities can be strengthened through public participation by various means, including market-based methods. The Indonesian gibbons at Petungkriyono District in Central Java are one of the benefactors of this mechanism.