Iddin Rasit now gets a higher price for his cocoa. In the past, he used to sell cocoa, his main commodity, for IDR 7,000-IDR 8,000 wet. But two years on, this farmer in Pongo village, in the Masamba subdistrict of Luwu Utara district, South Sulawesi can get up to IDR 13,500/kg.
“That's not only because the dollar price has risen, but also because the cocoa is better quality ,” said Iddin.
Iddin added that farmers can now sell their cocoa directly to cocoa processing firms, rather than to middlemen. And that is another reason prices are higher.
This improved quality, according to Iddin, came with the growing capacity of the farmers in cocoa cultivation and marketing. Using better cultivation methods, the farmers now get better quality and higher volume harvests. The farmers also learned about marketing from several organisations, including VECO Indonesia and Mars Symbioscience. Among other things, they learned about collective marketing and price negotiation.
Luwu Utara district is in the middle of Sulawesi Island. This district borders the provinces of Central Sulawesi and West Sulawesi. This area is about 12 hours overland from Makassar, the capital of the South Sulawesi province.
Cocoa is a mainstay commodity in Luwu Utara district. Part of this 7,502 km2 area is 50-100 meters above sea level, making it suitable for cocoa farming. Not surprisingly, Luwu Utara is the district with the largest area of cocoa estate in South Sulawesi.
This district has 63,000 hectares of cocoa estate. This is the largest area of the 20 districts/municipalities that have cocoa estate in South Sulawesi. More than 80% of the population works as farmers.
A survey by VECO Indonesia reports that the largest proportion (37 percent) of the income of Luwu Utara farmers comes from cocoa. Other sources of income are rice (31 percent) and corn (27 percent).
However, the local farmers still face challenges, such as low cocoa production and the lack of marketing channels for post-harvest processed cocoa. This challenge has been addressed by VECO Indonesia and its local partner, the NGO Wasiat, since they first began supporting farmers in Luwu Utara two years ago.
According to Peni Agustijanto, VECO Indonesia Field Office Coordinator in Sulawesi, Wasiat and VECO Indonesia provide support through various programs. Firstly, by building the capacity of existing farmer organisations in managing cocoa businesses. Thanks to organisational strengthening, Masagena farmer organisation now has around 1,160 members.
Masagena cooperative was set up in 2007 with 75 farmer group members spread across four villages: MasambaBaebunta, Malangke, dan Sabang.
The second kind of support is entrepreneurship training for farmers, in which they learning about business planning, internal control systems (ICS), among other things. In this way, the farmers learn how to negotiate with cocoa processing firms.
"Developing networks for farmers is also important so that they can expand their market potential," said Peni.
One of the major achievements for the Masagena cooperative was securing certification from the Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification agency. Farmers who are Masagena members have met the Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture standards. According to the report issued on 9 December 2013, this certification applies to 1,074 farmers who farm a total of 1,306 hectares of cocoa estate.
This certification was obtained thanks to support from VECO Indonesia, Mars, and Wasiat. Interestingly, unlike other certificates, this certificate is owned outright by the farmers, not by the companies that buy cocoa.
“Masagena is the only farmer group to be the holder of a sustainable agriculture certificate," explained Peni.
And becoming the holder of a sustainable agriculture certificate, Masagena has proved that farmer organisations can be sovereign.