Key stakeholders throughout the Timor-Leste have come together to form the first professional coffee trade organization in the origin’s long history, the Timor-Leste Coffee Association (Assosiasaun Café Timor-Leste, or ACTL).
Supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF), and facilitated in part by members of the Coffee Quality Institute, the initiative is similar to those in recent years in Myanmar and Yemen, designed to organize farmers locally, improve agricultural processes and quality, and promote and bring to market coffees from the origin.
“More than 25 percent of all households in Timor-Leste grow coffee and there is huge potential to improve production and quality” ADB Country Director for Timor-Leste Paolo Spantigati said in an announcement of the effort late last month. “This private sector initiative will support planning and implementation of activities to develop the coffee sector and improve farmers’ lives.”
Coffee remains the former Portugese colony’s primary export, despite the fact that the sector has famously struggled to rebound from the decades of resistance to Indonesian occupation in the 1980s and 1990s. The nation’s coffee industry has received assistance since then from USAID and other international development organizations, although production and exports remain low from a historical perspective. Starbucks has notably been a major buyer of Timorese coffee, although indices and anecdotal reports say poverty and hunger among farmers is all too common there.
Precipitating the ACTL launch, 24 stakeholder members met at a workshop in Dili from September 19 to 23 to develop a vision, strategic plan, structure and governance model for the new association, with Specialty Coffee Association of America co-founder and Coffee Quality Institute consultant Ted Lingle facilitating the process. The weeklong workshop was attended by coffee farming groups, cooperatives, traders, exporters, roasters and retailers, ADB said in the announcement.
The ACTL’s first major event will be a cupping competition and national coffee festival, scheduled for Dec. 1 of this year, including a professional conference program and a consumer exhibition area to market Timorese coffee.
In its announcement, ADB noted that Timor-Leste is well-known in the coffee industry as the origin of Hibrido de Timor, an arabica variety prized for its quality, productivity and resistance to disease.