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Helping our neighbouring coffee farmers recover from the impact of global shutdowns

A Timor-Leste coffee farmer packaging and stacking coffee beans.
A Timor-Leste coffee farmer packaging and stacking coffee beans, ready for storage - due to reduction in coffee exports. Photo: Market Development Facility

As coffee shops and cafes across Australia and the world grind to a halt with pandemic stay-at-home orders – what happens to the coffee yields of farmers across our region?

Walking down the street during our hour of lockdown exercise, we can see the direct impact of the pandemic on local coffee shops and cafes, some offering takeaway service, others completely closed. What we don't see is the impact on the farmers providing the beans – and the impact to the network of buyers and distributers that unite the coffee beans with the coffee machines.

In Timor-Leste, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in import and transportation restrictions, particularly for the agriculture sector, most notably for coffee exports. This has left many Timorese farmers unable to sell their crops; or being forced to sell for lower prices. The loss of income for the farmers is the loss of their livelihood, as many rely solely on coffee to survive.

The Australian Government-funded Market Development Facility (MDF) stepped up during this time, collaborating with partners and the Timor-Leste Government to create a suite of initiatives to support Timorese farmers.

It doesn't take much to help these farmers. One simple but impactful form of support from Australia included facilitating the travel of coffee companies' key personnel to Timor-Leste to arrange purchasing coffee as part of the 2020 harvest. Without this, thousands of Timorese farmers might not have been able to sell their crop.

In the absence of the usual sale opportunities due to COVID-19, MDF arranged an information session on alternative stockpiling solutions with a storage and transport firm. MDF also supported one business to install ‘cocoons’ for coffee collection, enabling it to continue buying from farmers (and storing) despite the short-term drop in demand.

Additionally, thanks to Australian funding, MDF supported two coffee companies to shift their operations to incorporate more specialty-grade coffee processing. Moving the market toward specialty coffee can offer long-term benefits in Timor-Leste's post-pandemic economic recovery because farmers and coffee companies receive higher prices for higher coffee quality.

Australia is committed to engaging with the private sector to extend the impact of Australia's development investments to low-income households through innovations which are both scalable and sustainable. These investments not only improve the economic recovery of Australia's nearest neighbours; they also bring those daily coffees we all rely on to our cafes.

Partnerships are key to Australia's response to COVID-19 and to building a sustainable recovery.

Australia's development program is an investment in an open, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific. Through Partnerships for Recovery Australia continues to deliver timely, responsive and effective support to help our partners when and where it is needed most. Our efforts are concentrated on health security, stability and economic recovery in our nearest region, and supporting the most vulnerable.

With our neighbours, international partners, and civil society, we will respond to the impacts of this pandemic and protect and build on the development gains of the last decades.

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