Coffee-related deforestation in Sumatra

by JulieCraves on March 11, 2009

Three decades of deforestation in southwest Sumatra: effects of coffee prices, law enforcement and rural poverty. 2009. D. L. A. Gaveau, M. Linkie, Suyadi, P. Levang, and N. Leader-Williams. Biological Conservation 142:597-605 .

I’ve written in the past about Sumatra’s problems with illegal coffee growing, particularly in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. A 2007 World Wildlife Fund investigation revealed that the robusta coffee grown illegally in the park was threatening the integrity of tiger, elephant, and rhino habitat and was purchased by such large companies as Kraft and NestlÁ©. A year later, I posted an update that noted NestlÁ© was still buying coffee originating in the park.

This study revisited this on-going situation, examining how deforestation can be curbed by law enforcement efforts, and how deforestation rates are driven by coffee prices.

Over the last 34 years, the main driver of deforestation in and around the park has been production of low-grade robusta coffee, the kind used in cheap grocery store blends and instant brands. In 2005, more than 85% of the forested areas in the park that had been converted to agriculture was planted with coffee, and the yield was a remarkable 4% of Indonesia’s entire annual robusta production.

The was a complex interplay of changing laws, local coffee prices tied to currency valuation, and low wages in the coffee-growing regions that drove the coffee-related deforestation, nicely analyzed by the authors. Active law enforcement did curtail the encroachment in the park in the 1980s. It has rebounded since the late 1990s; the departure of President Suharto has seen a decline in the emphasis on law enforcement, and a change in the governing philosophy towards conservation and rural workers, explain the authors.

The authors did not give a lot of cause for optimism that the coffee-related deforestation can be easily addressed. For example, eco-certification has been suggested to help provide premiums to farmers that grow coffee outside of the park under sustainable guidelines. But according to the authors, buyers and roasters are unwilling to manage the costs of certification. I doubt that the premiums wouldn’t be sufficient to discourage farming inside park boundaries (consumers would be unwilling to absorb additional costs for low-quality robusta).

Ultimately the authors suggested that prohibiting local use of the park would have to be reconsidered, including, perhaps, some type of sustainable-use policy and community conservation projects.

Photo of a Sumatran Tiger by g-na under a Creative Commons license.

D. Gaveau, M. Linkie, Suyadi, P. Levang, N. Leader-Williams (2009). Three decades of deforestation in southwest Sumatra: Effects of coffee prices, law enforcement and rural poverty Biological Conservation, 142 (3), 597-605 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.11.024

Revised on April 23, 2021

Posted in Research on coffee growing

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