Saving for the future, one coffee harvest at a time


July 3, 2011

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    Sarah Castagnola/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Rasunan is a board member of the Arinagata coffee cooperative, a third-generation coffee farmer and the father of two girls. Photo: Sarah Castagnola/Mercy Corps

Rasunan offered me a cup of coffee. The coffee was hot and thick with sugar. It was delicious. I visited Rasunan with Mercy Corps' Community Health and Investment for Livelihood Initiative (CHILI) staff. The staff is working with coffee cooperatives and communities in the Gayo Highlands of Aceh — a region famous for coffee production.

I learned Rasunan is a board member of the Arinagata coffee cooperative, a third-generation coffee farmer and the father of two girls. Rasunan recently added a new role to his busy life. In July, Rasunan will become a volunteer Financial Literacy Trainer for his village and his cooperative.

“In my community some people have only finished junior high school. I want to share knowledge with the community. Many people do not save and borrow money in between the coffee harvest,” explained Rasunan.

In Aceh, coffee is harvested from October through March. During this period of time, farmers receive all their income for the year. From March through October, farmers are left with their savings from the harvest to support their families. Rasunan estimates that only 10 percent of his community is able to save and find secondary jobs. The other 90 percent of the farmers borrow money to sustain their families through most of the year.

The farmers borrow money interest-free. However, there is a catch. When harvest comes, farmers are forced to sell their coffee at a subsidized price to the lender instead of premium prices to the Fair Trade coffee cooperatives in the region. Money borrowing in-between harvests has left many families trapped in a cycle of debt and borrowing.

Rasunan is one of the 25 volunteers who participated in Mercy Corps Financial Literacy Training of Trainers. This training is part of Mercy Corps CHILI program. The CHILI program is assisting coffee cooperatives and their villages with financial education, savings and loans and mother support groups, which promote maternal and child health.

In addition to supporting his community and cooperative, Rasunan is dedicated to improving his family’s financial future. “I hope with the training in financial education my own financial health will be better,” he said.

Over a second cup of coffee, Rasunan talked to me about his future goals.

“I want to build a house for my family,” he stated. He proudly explained that his eldest daughter is at the top of her class. I commended her efforts with my rudimentary Indonesian, “Bagus!” and the universal sign of good — a big smile. Rasunan chuckled at me.

“What else are you saving for?” I asked, worried my question was too personal. He glanced over at his nine-year-old daughter, who was trying to pick up her little sister. “I hope to save money so my children can go to university,” he said.