Permata Gayo Cooperative: Your Fair Trade Sumatran Coffee
Here at Traidcraft, we believe that visiting producers is crucial to our understanding of fair trade and our ability to progress and pioneer the future of fair trade. That’s why at the end of 2019, Traidcraft’s Jude travelled to the source of some of our most popular coffee, Sumatra, accompanied by Traidcraft’s resident coffee expert, Alex Urban.
The trip to source was extremely eye-opening for Jude. Here, Jude explains all about Permata Gayo Cooperative and what difference fair trade has made to their cooperative, workers and community.
“The real purpose of the trip was for Alex and I, in collaboration with Roasters United (a group of European coffee roasters committed to working directly with small farming cooperatives to promote high quality coffees that are organically grown in democracy), to support the on-going relationship with Permata Gayo Cooperative. However, I also wanted to delve into the world of our coffee producers, come back with some real-life stories behind the coffee you buy from Traidcraft and to get a better understanding of what fair trade really is.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that our Eat Your Hat coffee range doesn’t display the FLOCERT label on the packaging (FLORCERT are the people who audit for the Fairtrade principles). The reason for this is simple: in order to use the Fairtrade logo, all of the various organisations in the supply chain must be Fairtrade certified. Although Traidcraft and Permata Gayo Cooperative are certified, Roasters United and some of the other cooperatives from whom we buy coffee beans for Eat Your Hat are not certified. This does not mean we don’t pay a premium. When buying coffee beans from Permata Gayo Cooperative, Roasters United (who buy coffee on behalf of Traidcraft) pay much more than the Fairtrade price.
During my visit to Sumatra I wanted to see what Permata Gayo spend this additional money on. Some of the extra income is used communally by coop members – as they see fit – to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. In 2018, with some of the money, they decided to buy agricultural tools for the processes involved in farming, e.g. brushes for cleaning and rakes for drying the beans.
Fairtrade money has also enabled Temas Mumanang village to invest in a new depulping unit (a machine used to remove the red cherry skins from the coffee beans, a crucial step in the bush to bean journey – more on this later). We were lucky enough to see this machine in operation during our visit!
Partly financed by Fairtrade money, Permata Gayo Coop are currently implementing a new Compost Project, which uses, amongst other things, the red cherry skins to produce natural fertiliser for the coffee bushes.
In collaboration with Permata Gayo Coop and Coop Coffees in Canada, Roasters United are also contributing to what’s called a Project Fund. This additional pot of money helps the coffee farmers to launch more innovative projects. 75% funded by Roasters United and Co-op Coffees, and 25% funded by the Fairtrade Premium, one such project is the Climate Change Adaption Program which was implemented in 2019 and was one of the most exciting things I saw during my visit. It is primarily a tree planting scheme with three main aims:
- To protect the coffee bushes (they require partial shade and protection from the rain to grow best).
- To help farmers diversify their income (from fruit trees).
- To improve soil quality.
Different crops and trees are being planted on different farms, for many different reasons. The following factors are involved in the decision:
- Rainforest Alliance states there must be at least 12 tree varieties within the scheme.
- Farmers decide what type of tree they need based on what’s good for their coffee bushes and their own requirements. As well as the tree planting scheme, the programme involves planting more coffee crops, but specifically those that are more pest-resistant such as Tim-tim, Bourbon and Catimor.
One final thing I discovered is that Permata Gayo Coop have a programme in place to help their farmers during the low seasons. That is, some of the additional money received from organisations, such as Traidcraft, who pay more than the fair price, enables the coop to distribute rice to their farmers and workers during the off season, when they don’t have an income from coffee. This fully holistic approach shows why fair trade is fundamental to smallholder farmers of seasonal products such as coffee.