We drive two hours outside a busy tourist town in South East Asia, climbing consistently since leaving the banks of one of the mighty rivers of this region, and stop in a village. We are surrounded by dense forests 1000m above sea level. Led by one of the village elders, we walk past the houses and further up the mountain into the forest.
He pauses and proudly points out his coffee seedlings growing in the shade of the forest. He tells us how he is following the planting directions regarding spacing and feeding, and how this village is collecting their food and animal waste to create fertiliser, using the methods they learned from our coffee promoters. We walk a little further and see three men clearing weeds from the forest floor. It is about 10 months until next year’s planting season, but they are preparing now in the hope that the coffee company will choose them to have some of next year’s seedling allocation. A lot of excitement has been generated in this village by the sustainable income that farmers now have from selling their carefully tended coffee cherries to the coffee company that I work with.
Unlike their lowland brothers and sisters, many people in these highland areas have traditionally earned only a small and unstable livelihood from farming. This has led them to clear the forests as a temporary source of income. Deforestation also makes way for other crops that the people have been told will make them lots of money, particularly if they use the chemicals available from neighbouring countries. The majority of people in these areas do not know the Creator of the beautiful environment that they live in and endeavour to harness for their daily livelihood.
These issues inspired the company’s founder to seek a solution … and that was coffee. More precisely, organic, shade-grown, specialty coffee. Coffee could be a source of sustainable income for these people and help them take care of the beautiful environment that God has created in this part of the world. Expats and local Christians are rarely allowed to visit this part of the country, but doing this work means highland people have the opportunity to meet people who have a different worldview.
The coffee company has gained a lot of respect during their 14 years of working with highland villages. Last year we gave out 60,000 seedlings to new farmers in some of the 25+ villages that we now work with. We also had requests for more than 20,000 extra seedlings from new farmers or current farmers who want to increase their crop. This reveals great trust in the company as the coffee tree takes more than four years of cultivation before it yields its first sellable fruit.
This trust has, in no small part, been earned by the work of the company’s coffee promoters who walk alongside more than 850 farmers as their coffee plants grow. These local Christians visit the villages many times a year, teaching farmers how to grow specialty coffee in the forest without chemicals, and how to cultivate the trees to yield fruit that will earn high prices. They also share with all who are interested about the Creator whose creation they are tending. It’s these “kingdom gardeners” who are progressing the heart of the business to give highland people the opportunity to know more about the Creator who loves them.
For the coffee company, worshipping the Creator includes caring for His people through creating sustainable income for the coffee farmers and the 40 families directly employed by the company, introducing these people to the giver of life, caring for His creation through sustainable agriculture and environmentally friendly practices, and displaying His character through ethical business practices.
This profit-for-purpose business is now selfsufficient and offers profit sharing with its workers while investing the remaining profits into serving more highland communities. With demand for the company’s coffee outstripping supply, the Father continues to present more and more opportunities to be kingdom gardeners among some of the least-reached peoples of South East Asia.