The Jakarta Globe, Arti Ekawati
Indonesia’s coffee sector is struggling with low productivity due to aging trees and under-capitalized farmers, hampering the ability of the country to lift coffee exports.
According to figures from the Association of Indonesian Coffee Exporters (AEKI), one hectare in Indonesia produces an average of 700 kilograms of beans a year, less than a third of the 2,500 kilogram of beans per hectare produced in Vietnam.
AEKI executive secretary Rachim Kartabrata said on Tuesday that low productivity was limiting the country’s ability to boost coffee exports.
The country exported about 350,000 tons of coffee this year, up from 325,000 tons in 2008. Around 80 percent of exports were of robusta. The rest were arabica and various special varieties.
“The export volume of arabica this year is about the same as the export volume last year,” Rachim said, adding that it will be difficult to increase export volumes if there were no productivity improvements.
Sumarkum, chairman of the Indonesian Coffee Farmers Association (APEKI), said most domestic coffee farmers did not use fertilizer or have proper irrigation systems.
Most coffee plants were more than 25 years old, and some even dated back to the Dutch colonial period, while the ideal age for a coffee plant is no older than 20 years, Sumarkum said.
“It would be great if the government could help farmers to rejuvenate plants by providing seeds and fertilizer,” he said.
Coffee growers in certain areas should also try to plant speciality varieties of coffee such as mandailing, java and toraja to increase returns, he said.
“The price of speciality coffee is much higher than average arabica and robusta prices,” Sumarkum said.
“So, although the productivity is low, farmers can still earn more profit.”
There are about 1.3 million hectares of coffee plantations in Indonesia. Most of the nation’s coffee is grown in Sumatra, with Lampung, Bengkulu and South Sumatra provinces accounting for about 80 percent of total national production.
Local coffee growers have also been hit by a worldwide drop in prices due to the global economic slowdown. The price of a kilogram of robusta beans in the London market has dropped from $2.20 last year to $1.40 now.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, global coffee production is expected to fall to 125 million 60-kilogram bags in 2010, from 127.8 million bags this year.