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Illegal Sumatran Coffee Growers Squeeze Out Tigers, Rhinos

JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 17, 2007 (ENS) - Coffee illegally grown in an Indonesian national park inhabited by endangered tigers, elephants and rhinos fills the cups of unsuspecting coffee drinkers around the world, according to an investigative report released today by the global conservation organization WWF.

WWF-Indonesia's field investigation of the coffee trade routes from within remote Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park to the international market led to some of the largest coffee companies and most famous household brands in the world, such as Kraft and Nestlé.

Using satellite imaging, interviews with coffee farmers and traders, and monitoring of coffee trade routes, WWF investigators tracked the illegal cultivation of robusta coffee inside the park through its export routes to multinational coffee companies and the shelves of grocery stores across the United States, Europe and Asia.

"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 Nazir Foead, WWF-Indonesia’s director of policy and corporate engagement.

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Sumatran rhinoceros, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Sumatra Island, Indonesia (Photo by Gert Polet courtesy WWF-Indonesia)
"We think even the world’s most committed coffee drinkers will find this an unacceptable price to pay for their daily caffeine buzz," he said.

Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the southern tip of Sumatra Island, is one of the few protected areas where Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. Rich in biodiversity, the 324,000 hectare (1,250 square mile) national park is a World Heritage site containing some of Sumatra's last lowland forests.

The park is one of the most important habitats left for the three endangered or critically endangered species. But it has already lost nearly 20 percent of its forest cover to illegal agriculture, according to WWF.

Indonesia is now the world's fourth largest coffee exporter, behind only Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam. Robusta coffee, which grows easily in hot climates and is often used to make instant coffee and energy drinks, has become a common crop planted in the park.

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 through the port of Lampung, adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

truck

Illegal coffee grown in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is loaded on a truck. (Photo courtesy WWF-Indonesia)
But Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is a protected area. Therefore, the coffee is illegally planted, grown and sold.

An estimated 40 adult tigers inhabit the park. Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild and they are considered critically endangered.

About 500 Sumatran elephants, 25 percent of the remaining population of this endangered subspecies, live in the park.

Some 60 to 85 critically endangered Sumatran rhinos live in the park, the largest population on the island. They are found in only three other national parks.

WWF’s investigation found that small-scale farmers are growing coffee on more than 45,657 hectares (176 square miles) of park land. Most wildlife has already abandoned those areas.

Each household cultivated two hectares of coffee on average. The quality of the coffee beans was moderate relative to beans produced elsewhere in Lampung. Total coffee production inside the park was estimated at 19,600 tons.

In 2003, exported unwashed coffee beans leaving Lampung - tainted with coffee grown illegally in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park - totaled 216,000 tons. Export volume increased to 283,000 tons in 2004 and 335,000 tons in 2005.

boat

Illegal coffee being delivered by boat to the Lampung port, Sumatra Island (Photo courtesy WWF-Indonesia)
The coffee is exported to at least 52 countries. The United States, Germany, Japan and Italy were the largest importing countries of tainted Lampung coffee in 2004 and 2005, accounting for more than 50 percent of all coffee imports from the region.

Other importing countries include Algeria, India, and the United Kingdom.

Taloca, Kraft and Nestlé were the top recipients of coffee from Lampung in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Other companies identified as recipients of Lampung coffee include Marubeni, Itochu, ED&F Man, Andira, Lavazza, J. Mueller Weser, Pacorini and World Transport. Folgers, Tchibo and Starbucks received small shipments of coffee from Bandar Lampung’s exporters in 2004.

WWF determined that most of the companies buying the coffee likely 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 Lampung coffee tainted with illegal beans from the park. Some companies denied any purchase of illegally grown coffee.

One company, Nestlé, responded to the report, launching an effort to clean up part of its supply chain and advise farmers on how to produce higher quality coffee.

park

Lowland rainforest in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (Photo by Desmarita Murni courtesy WWF-Indonesia)
Some of the coffee companies approached by WWF have indicated they are willing to support the development of sustainable, legal coffee production outside the park.

WWF says this would ensure a reliable market for coffee farmers and provide a reliable, sustainable source of legal coffee for the companies. The park’s rhinos, tigers and elephants would benefit from having coffee production and the resulting environmental damage moved outside the park boundaries.

To further this effort, WWF has entered into an alliance with ForesTrade, a company with a long history of establishing sustainable development programs in Sumatra, and Rainforest Alliance, an organization known for its global efforts to certify sustainably produced coffee.

WWF is also in discussions with the new Common Code for the Coffee Community Association (4C), whose founding members include several recipients of illegal coffee. The aim is to encourage 4C members to help prevent further damage to the national park and undo the damage coffee production has already done to the park and its wildlife.

coffee

Sumatran coffee is in demand throughout the world. (Photo credit unknown)
"WWF doesn’t want to shut down the coffee industry in Lampung Province," Foead said. "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 coffee buying companies 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.

To read the report, "Gone in an Instant," click here.



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