Olam shares tech with Wildlife Conservation Society’s landscape partnership to tackle deforestation

Photo caption: [From left to right] Justin Adams, Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance; Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Olam International; and Cristián Samper, President and CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society


Collaboration will  improve coffee farmer productivity and livelihoods while reducing pressure on the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Indonesia 

Over 20,000 smallholder coffee farmers in southern Sumatra will benefit from a unique collaboration whereby global food and agri-business Olam International will grant use of its platform, the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS), to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to tackle forest encroachment in the Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBSNP) landscape in southern Sumatra.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest producers of coffee, with the majority grown by smallholder farmers in remote areas. The farmers face common challenges such as ageing trees, a lack of access to inputs, training and finance, and therefore typically have low yields. Their remoteness, and the length and complexity of the supply chain also makes traceability difficult. The Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (3,140 km2) in southern Sumatra is within one of Indonesia’s main coffee producing regions, and is one of the last strongholds of the Sumatran elephant and tiger, as well as being a significant carbon sink. However, the Park is under threat, with at least 10% of the park area having been converted into coffee farms.

In 2018, to reverse this trend, WCS convened the Bukit Barisan Selatan Sustainable Commodities Partnership (BBS KEKAL). This pioneering multi-stakeholder Partnership is based on a principle of ‘collective responsibility’, in which companies work together and in close collaboration with local and national government, farmers, and civil society to find new ways to protect the Bukit Barisan forest while also improving livelihoods. The Partnership is supporting farmers operating in the ‘first mile’ of the park buffer zone to transition to deforestation-free coffee production, alongside National Park conservation and restoration efforts. This enables companies to actively address deforestation and protect biodiversity while supporting farmers and the sustainable development of the coffee sector.

Olam initiated engagement to minimise the risk of coffee from deforested areas in the park finding its way into its supply chain, in recognition that only by acting in collaboration with stakeholders across the landscape and by actively supporting farmers around forest areas can a lasting, economically viable solution to this challenge be found.

A critical step towards the success of the Partnership is the ability to map farms, understand farmer needs and track volumes and origins of coffee entering supply chains from around the National Park. Olam developed the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS) in 2014, with a GPS mapping system, so that smallholder supply chains could be geo-spatially identified and productivity support be more tailored to individual farmer needs. To date 370,000 farmers across multiple crops in Olam’s supply chains have been registered.

Through this collaboration, the BBS KEKAL project teams, led by WCS, will use OFIS to survey participating farms on the forest frontier, recording and monitoring data on farm boundaries, coffee yields and productivity, the number and age of coffee trees; economic, social and health infrastructure; and the surrounding eco-system. This will allow the Partnership to deliver tailored training and incentives to farmers for the production of legal and deforestation-free coffee. At the same time, this will enable participating companies to reduce their risks of sourcing from the National Park, while supporting solutions in priority areas.

Financing for Olam’s participation in the Partnership has been provided by technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), including a grant from the Canadian Climate Fund for the Private Sector in Asia. ADB’s technical assistance will enable OFIS registration and capacity building training to smallholder coffee farmers in Indonesia, as well as Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Vietnam. The technical assistance complements ADB’s $88 million loan to Olam International in March 2018.

Commenting in New York during UN Climate Week, President and CEO, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cristián Samper, said: “Halting the loss of the world’s forests is increasingly urgent. BBS KEKAL demonstrates how companies must work together and in collaboration with government and NGOs to find new solutions to address deforestation. Only with collective action and by supporting farmers in vulnerable areas can we secure the future of this vital landscape. Olam’s involvement in this partnership is catalytic in moving from commitments to action”.

Co-Founder and Group CEO, of Olam, Sunny Verghese added: “Sharing our digital capability with WCS is one of the ways we are trying to re-imagine global agriculture and food systems for the better. This collaboration exemplifies how NGOs and corporates can work together to multiply positive impacts for farmers and our planet, while at the same time lowering the associated costs and risks for each party. More importantly it accelerates efforts to create a living landscape where deforestation is halted, land is regenerated and farmers can prosper.”