Kintamani farmers keep their coffee pure

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Anton Muhajir,  The Jakarta Post, Kintamani | Mon, 01/19/2009 6:03 PM | Bali

For some people, Kintamani coffee is an enjoyable delicacy worth traveling to Bali for. But for Kintamani farmers, it is a serious business.

Coffee farmers in Kintamani go to great lengths to ensure their brand of Arabica coffee reaches an international standard, including penalizing farmers who use chemicals or who fail to abide by the strict regulations for Kintamani coffee bean farming.

It began in 2005, when farmers collectively decided to ban the use of any inorganic materials on Kintamani coffee plants to maintain the beans’ quality.

“If we use chemicals, the coffee beans we harvest deteriorate quickly, sometimes as early as the day after we harvest them,” said I Wayan Jamin, a local village chief in the Kintamani area.

“We want everything in Kintamani to be organic. This ensures that the coffee beans last up to three days.”

Kintamani coffee is one of Bali’s specialties. The beans are planted on the highland plateau of Kintamani – between the volcanoes of Batukaru and Mount Agung – where farmers use the world-famous traditional collective farming system called Subak Abian.

Kintamani coffee beans are harvested once every year, between June and October. The rest of the year, farmers tend their plants.

At no time may farmers break the code, which has been expanded to include strict guidelines for proper bean planting and harvesting.

Jamin said in the past farmers were allowed to harvest the beans while still green, but now only the red ones may be harvested.

“Because that affects the quality of the coffee too,” he said.

Using chemicals or failing to keep to the code, he said, would result in several penalties, depending on the number of violations and the severity of the breach.

A small mistake such as picking a green coffee bean incurs a fine of Rp 1,000 multiplied by the number of farmers in their Subak Abian, which may include more than 150 villagers.

“A serious violation may cost the violator their job, or even traditional village exclusion, which means they may not pray together with the rest of villagers for the rest of their life,” Jamin said.

The farmers in the area do not seem to mind the strict rules.

One farmer, Nengah Kempel, said all the 150 farmers in Kintamani used organic fertilizers.

“It’s a collective decision,” Nengah said, adding the rules had helped the farmers’ relationship with PT Indokom, a coffee exporter based in Lampung and Surabaya, which had been helping the farmers improve their coffee beans since five years ago.

Nengah said the company had been helping farmers to have more stable lives, saying that before the arrival of PT Indokom, farmers had been forced to wage bargaining wars with commodity brokers.

“Now the prices are more stable,” he said.

Kempel said his coffee sells for Rp 5,500 per kilogram, or about Rp 25 million per harvest for his 50-acre farm. On the market, Kintamani coffee fetches about Rp 5,000 a kilogram.

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