Priest says coffee growers big losers in Timor unrest

A Timorese priest says that coffee growers are the biggest losers as a result of the recent violence, leaving many small growers at the peak of coffee harvest season this month with no other source of income.

EasyBourse reports that months-long unrest in East Timor has eased, but it dealt a heavy blow to the fledgling country's already-fragile economy, including its coffee industry - a major source of foreign exchange, jobs and pride.

"For us, coffee is like gold," coffee grower Bernardo Babo said. He and other farmers from Railaco, 37 km west of the capital of Dili, failed to transport their coffee harvest to the violence-wracked capital for weeks. Many stayed off their farms, and tons of coffee beans fell to the ground and rotted.

Farmers like Mr Babo depend on seasonal coffee earnings support their families and send their children to school the rest of the year, said Fr Samuel Dizon, a priest in Railaco.

"It's the only thing that supports them. They have nothing else," Fr Dizon said. He said many coffee farmers depend partly on rice and vegetables grown in their backyards for food.

Dili's coffee-processing factories suspended work at the height of the violence. At least one was attacked by looters in late May, Fr Dizon said.

Initial estimates show about 20 per cent of this year's coffee harvest target of 10,000-15,000 metric tons may have been lost, said Fernando Amaral, a senior official at the coffee and industrial crops unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

East Timor's latest violence - the worst since it broke from Indonesia in 1999 - was triggered by the dismissal in March of 600 soldiers from the 1,400-member army.

Battles between rival armed forces factions then gave way to gang warfare, arson and looting, forcing tens of thousands of people to abandon Dili or take refuge in camps scattered across the seaside capital.

The coffee harvest usually starts in early May and peaks around June and July.

East Timor supplies high-quality organic beans to overseas companies - from large companies like the Seattle-based chain Starbucks to small fair trade companies like the Sydney-based Tradewinds.

The biggest markets are the US and Europe, which buy more than half of East Timor's coffee according to the EasyBourse report. The rest is shipped to Australia, China, Indonesia and Japan.

East Timor's Coffee Industry Hurt By Recent Unrest (EasyBourse/AP 20/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tradewinds Tea and Coffee

Ramos-Horta wants Vatican embassy for Timor (CathNews 11/7/06)
Timor Church to pursue truth and dialogue (CathNews 28/6/06)
Diocese prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees (CathNews 11/5/06)

21 Jul 2006