East Timor: Coffee co-op markets globally, provides sustainable future for members, communities

On the shelves of Starbucks stores and online, there is a coffee with citrus and malt flavors from the Southeast Asian country of East Timor, sourced from Cooperativa Café Timor (CCT).

Woman tends coffee seedlings in East Timor.Established more than 20 years ago with funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and organizational support from NCBA CLUSA, CCT has survived a war with Indonesia, as well as a civil war to become the country's largest private-sector employer. With 22,000 farmer-owners, the co-op also provides 4,000 seasonal jobs.

As a co-op, the coffee farmers govern how their coffee is processed, exported and how profits are reinvested. In 2000, CCT members decided to invest fair-trade coffee premiums into community health clinics for their remote, mountain coffee-growing regions, which lie outside the Ministry of Health’s coverage area.

Woman with baby at clinic funded by coffee co-op in East Timor.Since then, the eight health clinics, three mobile and 12 community extension teams have served over 2 million Timorese and continue to operate from coffee profits, in addition to outside grants.

Starbucks provided funds to build four community extension clinics in 2008, offering family planning and prenatal services to pregnant mothers. The CCT health system is now East Timor's largest private health care provider.

The co-op continuously listens to its members and addresses community issues. When the altitude prevented farmers in the eastern part of the country from growing Arabica coffee, the co-op partnered with NCBA CLUSA to diversify its crops and attract more members. Two current projects, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID), are helping expand the coffee co-op’s products to include cassava, vanilla, pepper, Robusta coffee and cocoa.

Vicente de Jesus, president of CCT’s board of directors, said his obligation as a board member is to the farmer. “I am also a farmer. I want to support them because I understand their challenges,” he said.

CCT’s success is largely due to the community focus of the co-op. With Timorese leadership listening to farmer’s needs from the beginning, the co-op has grown into a formidable private sector business in the region. “The U.S. is very proud of the long-term investment in this project, and we look at it as a model for sustainable, successful development,” said Karen Stanton, U.S. ambassador to East Timor.

Learn more about NCBA CLUSA and its sustainable international cooperative development. NCBA CLUSA is a member of the U.S. Overseas Development Council. Follow OCDC on LinkedIn and NCBA CLUSA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Posted 6/21/16