Coffee companies destroying Sumatra's biodiversity

Posted: 18 January 2007

Coffee lovers the world over are unknowingly drinking coffee that was illegally grown inside one of the world's most important national parks for highly endangered tigers, elephants and rhinos, says an investigative report by the conservation organisation WWF.

Coming from the Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBS) National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, the illegally grown coffee is mixed by local traders with legal coffee beans and being exported from Indonesia to companies such as Kraft Foods, Nestlé and UK based ED&F Man Holdings Ltd. Neither exporting nor importing companies have mechanisms in place to prevent the trade of illegal beans.

The report Gone in an Instant says that most of the companies buying the coffee were unaware of its illegal origins, based on the lack of regulations in the region. WWF provided draft copies of the report's findings to the top recipients of coffee tainted with illegal beans from BBS. Some companies denied any purchase of illegally grown coffee, whilst others are in discussing how to avoid purchases of the coffee, to boost the production of sustainably grown coffee and to restore the habitats in the park.

"WWF doesn't want to shut down the coffee industry in Lampung Province," said Nazir Foead, WWF-Indonesia's Director of Policy and Corporate Engagement. "But we're asking multinational coffee companies to implement rigorous chain-of-custody controls to ensure that they are no longer buying illegally grown coffee, and we're asking the Indonesian Government to better protect the park."

WWF is also asking the coffee-buying companies involved to work with local Sumatran growers to provide incentives to switch to sustainable coffee production. The report recommends that the park and local authorities prevent further encroachment into the park and develop regulations that prevent illegally grown coffee from infiltrating international trade.

Illegal agriculture Using satellite imaging, interviews with coffee farmers and traders and monitoring of coffee trade routes, WWF tracked the illegal cultivation of robusta coffee inside the remote National Park all the way through its export routes to multinational coffee companies across the US, Asia and Europe.

BBS, a World Heritage Site on the southern tip of the island of Sumatra, is one of the few protected areas where Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. It is one of the most important habitats left for the three endangered or critically endangered species. But almost 20 per cent of its forest is degraded mostly due to illegal agriculture.

Indonesia is the world's second-largest exporter of robusta, which is often used in instant coffee and packaged coffee sold in supermarkets. At least half the country's coffee is exported to at least 52 countries through the port of Lampung, adjacent to the national park. In 2003, exported unwashed coffee beans leaving Lampung - tainted with coffee grown illegally in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park - totalled 216,000 tons. Export volume increased to 283,000 tons in 2004 and 335,000 tons in 2005. WWF's investigation found that farmers were growing coffee on more than 45,000 hectares of park land, producing some 19,600 tons of coffee annually. Most wildlife has already abandoned those areas. "If this trend of illegally clearing park land for coffee isn't halted, the rhinos and tigers will be locally extinct in less than a decade," said Heather Sohl; Species Officer at WWF-UK. "We think even the world's most committed coffee drinkers will find this an unacceptable price to pay for their daily caffeine buzz."

i>Note: The Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is believed to be home to approximately 40 adult tigers. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild and they are considered critically endangered. The park is home to an estimated 500 Sumatran elephants, 25 per cent of the remaining population of the endangered subspecies. It is also home to an estimated 60-85 Sumatran rhinos, the largest population on the island, where they are found in only three other national parks. Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered.

For more informaamtion see: www.wwf.org.uk