Global Programs

Coffee farmers are rising to meet new economic opportunities in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste coffee farmers are working to enhance the health of their coffee trees, the environment and their communities as they produce premium organic coffee.

Two thousand farmers in Ermera earlier this month welcomed Timor-Leste’s President Jose Ramos Horta, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and New Zealand Ambassador Philip Hewitt, showing off their newly learned agronomy skills to rehabilitate their old coffee farms.

Motivated by their coffee’s success in international markets—including the recent recognition of their coffee by Starbucks as one of its prized “Starbucks Reserve” coffees—Timor-Leste coffee farmers are working harder than ever to enhance the health of their coffee trees, the environment and their communities as they produce premium organic coffee.

Making all this happen for this community of smallholder coffee growers in Timor-Leste is a pioneering farmer-led cooperative, Cooperativa CafĂ© Timor (CCT), supported generously by the Government of New Zealand through NCBA CLUSA’s Raising Income through Sustainable Export (RISE) project, focused on rehabilitation of coffee farms and exports of agricultural products. Established with support from NCBA CLUSA in 1994, CCT offers its 27,000 farming families access to international specialty markets, better prices and healthcare through its network of health clinics serving remote mountain coffee-growing communities.

Already, 3,000 growers have upgraded their farms applying productivity enhancing techniques and agronomic practices to increase coffee yields and improve the cupping quality of their coffee beans. Committed to safeguarding not only cup quality, but also the health of coffee consumers, their own communities and the environment, these coffee farmers are innovating.

From left: Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor-Leste; Taur Matan Ruak, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste; Philip Hewitt, New Zealand Ambassador to Timor-Leste; and Bency Isaac, NCBA CLUSA’s Senior Agriculture Processing Advisor.

CCT coffee farmers are already actively applying organic fertilizer produced by their cooperative primarily from waste coffee cherry, while also utilizing environmentally friendly practices to expand the use of nitrogen-fixing shade trees to improve soil quality for the coffee trees, and capture carbon emissions. To ensure every sip is safe, CCT and its farmers carefully follow rigorous quality control and supply chain management processes, from tree to cup, to deliver chemical-free, certified organic coffee to the world.

Happy farmers produce enjoyable coffee experiences, as their stories weave into your own with every sip. Through the RISE project, the Government of New Zealand is supporting coffee growers to increase their output three-fold from existing coffee farms, taking a whole-farm approach and diversifying into high-value crops such as vanilla, cloves, pepper and cacao that complement coffee production and further raise incomes.

In 2021, coffee farmers supported by the project each took home $1,200—three times higher than the national average. By project end in 2025, 17,500 farmers are expected to earn even more from their farms as the multiple crops begin to mature and produce higher yields, lifting coffee families into prosperity. Prosperous growers are happier as families are able to pay for medicine, fund education for children, afford safer homes, and consume healthier foods.

The project is also increasing livelihood opportunities for the community. Youth are being paid by growers to aggregate and transport coffee cherries to processing centers; set up nurseries to sell coffee, cacao and shade tree seedlings as a business; participate in surveying and data gathering as a service to CCT for a fee; and establish small coffee shops for local markets.

In addition to growers and service providers, during the coffee season more than 2,000 Timorese men and women also find employment per day for almost 120 days. Another 560 Timorese women and men are full-time CCT employees who process and prepare Timor-Leste’s exceptional coffee for export. Next year, coffee production and exports are expected to hit a high, as more growers engage in improved management practices, reinvigorated by the optimism and opportunity to enhance their economic and social wellbeing.

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