Illegal Coffee Threatens Rare Species: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Sumatra

What is it with these multi-national big companies that have total disregard for the environment, the animals that reside there and the laws of a country. I was aware that national parks in Indonesia were a definite no-go zone for anybody – mining and farmers.

But it seems this does not refer to global food giants Nestle and Kraft Foods and coffee shop chain Starbucks who have sold coffee illegally grown in a key conservation area for endangered tigers and rhinos, WWF said Wednesday in an article in the Antara News.

The coffee comes from the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the southern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, which is home to about 40 Sumatran tigers, of which there are fewer than 400 left in the wild, the conservation group said.

It is also home to about 500 Sumatran elephants, a quarter of the remaining population, and 60 to 85 critically endangered Sumatran rhinos.

Despite its importance as a conservation area and World Heritage Site, nearly 20 percent of the park has been cleared for illegal coffee cultivation, the WWF said in a report titled “Gone in an Instant“.

“About 17 percent of the national park area is being cultivated for coffee,” Nazir Foead, from WWF Indonesia, told AFP.

“If current trends continue, in 10 years’ time the area could double, causing significant impacts to the (endangered) species’ habitats,” he said.

Indonesia is now the world’s fourth-largest coffee exporter and second-largest producer of robusta, widely used for instant coffee. At least half the country’s coffee is exported through the port of Lampung, adjacent to the national park.

“All the coffee exported from Lampung is tainted,” said Foead, who authored the report. Local traders mixed illegally grown coffee with legal beans and exported it to international firms.

Kraft Foods, ED and F Man in Britain, Dutch firm Andira, Hong Kong’s Noble Coffee, Germany’s Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, Marubeni Corp. of Japan, Hamburg Coffee Company, Nestle, Olam of Singapore and Italy’s Lavazza were the top 10 buyers of Lampung coffee in 2003, the WWF said.

Starbucks, Folgers and Tchibo also received shipments from Lampung in 2004.

Foead said they were probably unaware of its illegal origins, due to the lack of regulations in the region.

“I think they don’t know where the coffee comes from,” he said.

“The village and sub-district traders are mixing the (illegal and legal) coffee.”

Neither exporting nor importing companies had mechanisms in place to prevent the trade in illegal beans.

“We are asking the coffee companies to first of all recognise the problem,” he said.

Swiss food giant Nestle responded by “launching an effort to clean up part of its supply chain and advise farmers on how to produce higher-quality coffee,” the WWF said.

US-based Kraft Foods Inc., the world’s second-largest food and beverage company after Nestle, and Lavazza were in the early stages of engaging with the WWF on the issue, the group said.

Foead said the WWF was also working with farmers to convince them to cultivate coffee outside conservation areas and provide them with the technical knowhow to produce better quality beans.

“We would like the big buyers to clean up their chains of supply and help the poor farmers to plant coffee in a sustainable way outside the national park,” he said.

“We do not want the buyers to shift to somewhere else.”

Foead said farmers could improve their productivity and profits if they tended their plants properly and selectively harvested them.

The WWF also called on the Indonesian government to better protect the park and give incentives to legitimate coffee producers and microcredit for coffee farmers.