The unshakeable Ketiara coffee family

Earthquakes may ruin homes and damage villages, but nothing can shake the sense of family at the Indonesian coffee cooperative Ketiara.

Ibu Rahmah, second from left, board chairwoman of Kopepi Ketiara, with some of her coffee 'family' members.

While a recent earthquake damaged the homes of many members, the coffee harvest is still looking strong.

Members depend on each other and on income from coffee to help them recover from natural disasters.

08 agosto 2013

Ibu Rahmah is the founder of Indonesia’s Ketiara Coffee Cooperative. She is also a wife, a mother, a coffee farmer, the co-op chairwoman... in short, says the co-op’s manager, Lina: “She is everything to Ketiara.”

The title that best fits her, though, is mother. Rahmah brought Ketiara to life in 2009, helped it grow to become Fairtrade certified in 2012, and is constantly working to improve the cooperative’s future.

She laughs when she’s described as the mother of Ketiara, but admits she does feel a special bond with the co-op’s nearly 1,000 members.

“They are my children,” she said.

The Ketiara family

They may not be blood-relatives, but the bond that Ketiara members share through coffee is an important one – with no other major crop in the region, it’s all many farmers have to earn a living. Most farms are family-owned, and the average plot is around one hectare (about 1.5 football fields) in the mountainous region (1,200-1,500 meters) of Indonesia’s Central Aceh Regency. The forested soil is fertile and conditions are perfect for Arabica coffee. Fruits and vegetables also grow well, and there are plenty of native plants and animals sharing the slopes with the farmers; but most available space is devoted to coffee.

“Ketiara is the source of livelihood for us now,” said Lina, who recently became a mother herself. “I expect this will be the case for our daughters and our granddaughters in the future, also.”

Based on Ketiara’s success in the few short years since it began, her daughter’s future will be a bright one. The co-op began small in 2009 with just 39 members, but has quickly grown to almost 1,000 members from 15 villages in the region. Just one year after their certification, Ketiara was able to sell 174,600 kilograms of Fairtrade organic coffee and 137,160 kilograms of non-Fairtrade organic coffee – a significant increase from the early days when Rahmah was working as a small trader buying just a few kilos of hand-processed coffee cherries.

In addition to a positive outlook for the business, the next generation at Ketiara will likely enjoy educational opportunities that weren’t always available in this part of Indonesia. Rahmah recalls that while she did go to school when she was growing up, she sat on the floor since there were no tables and chairs, and she had no more than sandals to cover her feet.

“It is much more comfortable for children now,” she said. “They have shoes, they have good transportation to school, and the schools have good equipment.”

A better life for the future

The cooperative is making long-term investments. They used their initial Fairtrade Premium money for environmental protection measures such as planting avocado trees on the steep slopes. The trees help prevent landslides and also provide an additional source of income. Additional investment in education is one of the co-op’s primary goals for future Premium use.

Striving toward a better tomorrow has always been a priority for Rahmah and Ketiara, something that dates back to her own childhood as the daughter and granddaughter of coffee farmers.

“As coffee farmers, we want to secure a better life in the future,” Rahmah said. “In the past, we sold our coffee to a middleman. A middleman keeps the price very low. That's why we established a cooperative, to increase our income from the coffee.”

Establishing a co-op has certainly had financial benefits for Ketiara, but the wealth of a family isn’t measured in dollars and cents.

“The value in Ketiara is about a sense of becoming a big family,” Rahmah said, joking that anyone unwilling to call themselves a part of the family is welcome to find another co-op. “Ketiara has so many brothers and sisters. The feeling of becoming united together is very important to us, whether we are happy or sad.”

A helping hand

The true test of a family comes when times are tough, which has unfortunately been the case at Ketiara recently. On July 2, an earthquake shook the region and caused damage to some of the villages where Ketiara’s farmers live. The coffee fields were not affected, but some members have called on their Ketiara family for help in repairing the damage. It’s a call that is quickly answered.

“Of course we are helping together,” Rahmah said. “The members are very actively reporting to us if there is some accident in the village, and we come help together.”

Lina adds, “We are helping each other as a big family.”

That is what Rahmah, the proud mother of Ketiara, values the most about her cooperative.

“Ketiara has fallen in love with its members, and the members fall in love with Ketiara,” she said.

If you are interested in sourcing coffee from Ketiara, visit their website for more information.

 
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