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Reforesting a village in Indonesia, one batch of gourmet beans at a time

Kiryono, 39, at work in Cibulao. Image by Donny Iqbal for Mongabay.

  • Deforestation in the village of Cibulao on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, left it prone to droughts in the dry season and landslides in the rainy season.
  • That changed in the early 2000s when a local tea plantation worker named Kiryono began replanting the slopes with seeds foraged from the nearby forest.
  • Among those seeds were coffee seeds taken from wild coffee trees, and with training and the help of his family, Kiryono today produces some of the most prized coffee in Indonesia.
  • The village is also greener now, thanks to Kiryono’s replanting efforts, and the local farmers’ cooperative hopes to expand on that work by applying for the right to manage a larger area of land.

CIBULAO, Indonesia — A light drizzle falls outside Kiryono’s home as he peers at the thermostat on a coffee roaster. The 39-year-old’s green robusta harvest absorbs the heat in the initial part of the process, before the beans become exothermic as the temperature rises.

“I’ve never encountered difficulty in selling coffee, even though the price is higher than other coffees,” Kiryono tells Mongabay. “It’s probably because I pursue quality over quantity.”

Kiryono’s homespun roasting operation has catalyzed change in what was still, in the early 2000s, a fairly typical village on the southeastern outskirts of metropolitan Jakarta, the capital. Today Cibulao is greener and more prosperous, in large part due to its reputation as a cradle for a cup of Java.

“This coffee is for orders from Jakarta,” Kiryono says. “We get a lot of requests but not all have been fulfilled.”

Almost two decades ago, Kiryono, then in his early 20s, saw the village suffer through droughts as the water tabled groaned under the pressures of the dry season. Local deforestation had also shaved the landscape of forest cover, which brought landslides in the rainy season from saturated topsoil.

These challenges prompted Kiryono to draw up a plan to begin replanting the slopes here in Cibulao with local tree species.

But he lacked access to the capital needed to purchase seeds wholesale, which prevented him from tackling the project at scale. So for two years, Kiryono trudged back and forth from the forest to retrieve seeds. Among the seeds he planted were those from wild coffee plants he encoutered in the forest.

“Every day there was a target for planting [a number of seeds],” he says. “There was only one goal: to repair the environment.”

Kiryono examines his robusta coffee beans. Image by Donny Iqbal for Mongabay.

Kiryono encountered skepticism from some in the community who considered the project wishful thinking. Moreover, Kiryono was new to the complexities of coffee planting (at the time he was a laborer at a nearby tea plantation).

In spite of these barriers, Kiryono pressed on with the help of his father, uncle and younger brother. The men planted hundreds of seeds in increments, opting for composting and manure over more expensive fertilizers.

But even as the other trees took root and flourished, the coffee trees they planted refused to bear fruit.

“The failure at that time was a heavy blow. I took some time out,” he says. “My efforts alone were evidently not enough.”

It was not until years later that a development organization working out of the agricultural university in a nearby city came to Kiryono with a proposal.

In 2009, the Regional Planning and Development Study Center (P4W) at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) began to conduct studies of the local topography while offering training to Kiryono.

The trees soon responded by bearing fruit. Guests from the community then started arriving at Kiryono’s house to learn about coffee-making. Buyers even came directly to his house.

The local economy in Cibulao has now changed almost beyond recognition. In 2016, coffee from the village won the Indonesian Specialty Coffee Contest.

A dozen other residents of the village have since formed a cooperative, the Cibulao Hijau Forest Farmer Group (KTH).

Now the group is designing a framework to bring in coffee enthusiasts to witness and understand the nuances of the entire process, from the field to the metallic roaster inside Kiryono’s home.

At the beginning of this year the KTH farmers petitioned the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry to grant 75 households in Cibulao the right to manage 611 hectares (1,510 acres) of land for 35 years.

The farmers hope this will secure not just their future, but offer better protection for an area where they still remember the water shortages in the dry months and the landslides in the wet season.

“Without raising awareness,” Kiryono says, “the goal of maintaining the balance of nature will never be sustainable.”

Banner: Kiryono at work in Cibulao. Image by Donny Iqbal for Mongabay.

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on March 27, 2019.

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