November 3rd, 2007 – Establishing the Baliem Arabica Cooperative
On the November 3, we invited 50 tribal chiefs from throughout the Baliem valley for a gathering at our Honai (a Honai is a traditional meeting house in Jagara Walesi). We discussed the creation of a farmer’s cooperative for the production of specialty Arabica coffee in the Baliem Valley.
After a six hour meeting, the chiefs agreed to organize the Baliem Arabica Cooperative, which will produce specialty Arabica Coffee for the international market. On December 1, the cooperative was legalized by the government and started work.
December 15th, 2007 – Building the production facility
Together, we fenced the production area and coffee drying space. We also built a new meeting house for the cooperative and extended the storage facility for coffee.
January 3rd, 2008 – Finishing the production facility
Our new warehouse, the meeting house (Honai) and traditional wooden fence officially opened by the head of the Baliem Arabica Cooperative. For this special occasion we roasted two pigs in the traditional style, with vegetables on hot stones covered by leaves and earth. This will insure success and the good wishes of the local ghosts and spirits.
March 15th, 2008 – Transport of Machinery
After two months of waiting, the new processing equipment from Java finally arrived in port of Timika. Transporting this machinery into the Baliem Valley was a huge challenge. We had to dismantle the machines and ship them piece by piece in a small “Cessna” airplane. It took six flights to airlift all the machinery to Wamena, the capital of Baliem Valley. zz
May 27th, 2008 – Completing the processing plant
We finished installing the production machinery quickly, even though the Jagara clan had never done this kind of work before. Everything was installed by the group itself in two days, and we had a lot of fun in the process. Anton, the production manager of the Cooperative, then trained Maximus, Ben, Matheus, and Ceasar how to operate the huller and grading machine.
After some tests and practice, our team learned quickly how to operate the equipment. Then, Aram (Maximus’s father), inspected the machinery and told us that we had to sacrifice a pig in order to get the keep the spirit of the machine happy and healthy. So after we installed and tested the machinery, we selected two big pigs to eat together the next day.
The next morning at 6:00 AM, we started to prepare the oven. It is built by digging a hole one meter deep, which will be filled with layers of grass, food and heated stones. Meanwhile, Maximus and the eldest member of the community went to slaughter the pigs, following the rituals and rules of the ancestors.
The oven team heated the stones and then wondered why it was taking so long to prepare the pigs. Once everything was ready, the ovens were filled. First, we put in a layer of grass, followed by hot stones, then grass, then a pig, followed by vegetables and sweet potatoes. On top of that came more grass and hot stones, followed by the second pig, more vegetables, grass and stones. The completed oven stood 1.5 meters above the ground. The tribe has been cooking feasts this way for centuries.
Finally, about mid-afternoon, the women decided that the pigs must be done, and the feast could begin. Everyone helped to take apart the steaming mountain of grass, stones, vegetables and meat. The men divided up the meat, so that each family would get an equal share. After an hour, we all sat down together in the afternoon sun and to enjoy our meal.
Later in the afternoon, I went to Pilamo’s house, where we spent the evening talking about world events and other issues. Sometime around midnight we just fell asleep where we were sitting.
June 17th, 2008 – Collecting the coffee
This month, we began buying coffee throughout the Baliem valley. We organized two 4 wheel drive pick-up trucks and gave each group of farmers a date when we would collect the first coffee harvest from them.
Since I‘m keen about off-road driving, I insisted on driving one of the collecting trucks. I also insisted on collecting the coffee from the most remote village, since that would give me more time behind the wheel.
We started at 4:00 AM and finally reached the village of Tiom at 11:00 AM – 7 hours to drive 56 miles! This is the most remote point in the valley that can be reached by vehicle. However, many production areas are even further away, and the coffee is brought to the collection points on foot. After purchasing the coffee and loading the pick-up, we had a quick lunch (canned corned beef, crackers and bananas).
At 13:00, we started back and by 16:00, it was raining hard. In some places, the road turned into a river, and in other places it became a giant mud pit. By nightfall, it was still raining, so we decided to set up camp and wait for the road to turn back into a road. The rain stopped at 4:00, we hit the road again at 5:00 AM. We arrived at the processing plant in Jagara (near Wamena) at 14:00, after a 34 hour round trip.
Our buying Team is doing this trip every week, as well as 12 other locations, some of them easy to reach and other not so easy, to get this coffee to the processing mill. The farmers are also doing their part, because most have to carry the coffee for hours on foot, to reach the collection points. This is just the first part of a long journey that the beans must take to travel from the tree to your cup, wherever you are in the world.
July 29th, 2008 – Processing and grading the coffee
We collected and processed 12 tons of coffee last month. Now we are hand sorting and grading it. The staff who are doing this work were trained for three days, and now they are excellent graders.
Now we have another problem. For the past two weeks, there has been no fuel in Wamena. This means no fuel for the collecting trucks, the processing equipment or the generator. We are told this is because rough seas have prevented tanker ships from supplying Papua. Even under normal conditions, fuel costs three times as much in Wamena as the rest of Indonesia, because it must be air-lifted in from the capital Jayapura (along with everything else).
However, just as we were becoming discouraged, we got some good news. The Government of Papua has agreed to provide the Baliem Arabica Cooperative with a warehouse in Jayapura, free of charge. We will store the green beans in this warehouse, until we accumulate enough to fill a 20 foot container. Now, we need to get the coffee to the port of Jayapura. It will have to be airlifted on the big cargo transports, just like everything else that goes in or out of Wamena—crazy!