Interview with Adri Yahdiyan, Ontosoroh

We spoke to Adri Yahdiyan, co-founder and main partner of Ontosoroh Coffee, to share some of his thoughts on our partnership, and the importance of the development of specialty Robusta supply and demand. Here is what he had to say:

Robusta makes up 70% of all the coffee produced in Indonesia. And the island of Flores is almost an exact representation of that.

Along the way we found out that specialty Robusta could really be a good product on its own. So not only temporarily, but there to stay. It is high yielding and has potential for higher quality. On top of that, it is far less risky than Arabica in terms of vulnerability to pests, diseases and temperature fluctuations. One year you could have 600 kg of Arabica per hectare, the next year it could be 150kg. With Robusta that fluctuation is far smaller.

So. Specialty Robusta makes sense
It has a decent business case. We see demand increase steadily year after year and progress in sync with higher prices for Arabica. So when Arabica prices peak, demand for high quality Robusta as an alternative goes up as well.

Now we need to consolidate to retain the quality that companies like Wakuli require.

We have focused on scaling up fourfold every year. Now we feel we need to take a tactical pause. Robusta plays an important role in coffee dynamics. Until we started to work with This Side up and later with Wakuli on specialty Robusta there was only the option to churn up the yield year after year with Vietnam as our big example. We currently only produce half of what they do per hectare.

The traditional way of growing robusta is unsustainable

So industrialisation was long seen as the only option for a better livelihood. Understandable, because with Robusta you only make half of what you can make with growing Arabica. However, it is unsustainable in the long term because of dependency on chemicals and the pressure on land use. But now we have another view and see new opportunities ever since This Side Up and Wakuli came along.

In Flores, where the Rende Nao farmers grow the coffee, coffee used to be sold in the local market for $1,50 per Kg. From here it gets sold to the local factory who in turn sells it onwards to the big factories in Java. They in turn sell to the traders who supply companies like JDE and Nestle. For Flores this system was a shame. As you don’t need high altitudes to grow low grade robusta, and Flores is relatively high above sea level, the robusta grown here has potential to be of very good quality with a special flavor profile: sweeter and more chocolatey. Unfortunately, the system of the supply chain caused the Robusta to only sell for normal prices. Because Robusta is much less valuable than Arabica the trend was to kill the Robusta and replace it with Arabica, selling for $5 per kg. This, however, confronted farmers with the need to invest and deal with the income loss in the first years after replanting. That became a dilemma for farmers. We presented the farmers with a transition opportunity by increasing the quality of the Robusta while slowly moving towards Arabica. That was what we thought. That was our plan in 2015. 

Interview with Adri Yahdiyan, Ontosoroh