Since 2001 Royal has worked with Cooperativa Café Timor (CCT) and has imported and distributed millions of pounds of this group’s coffee. This is no small feat, especially as the average farmer cultivates less that one hectare (about 2 ½ acres) of land.

I love this coffee and this cooperative. What impresses me most is the extensive health care services and health education that over 21,000 cooperative members receive from the CCT.

CCT has been the driving force in helping producer members to improve their quality and grow their yields. Producers are paid by the weight of the product they deliver. Therefore, higher yields equal more revenue for one’s day-to-day needs. 80% of the East Timorese population attempts to make a living via agriculture and coffee is the largest export from Timor-Leste after petroleum. Timor-Leste actually led the globe in coffee export revenue percentage between 2005-2010. 70% of the revenue from export in the region is coffee. Timor-Leste is recognized as the poorest country in the East Asia/Pacific region and is one of the poorest nations in the world. Coffee cultivation represents an economic lifeline to the general populace, many of whom get by on an annual income of less than $1000 per year.

In 2014, the dry mill was upgraded with a new electronic color sorter. This sorter dramatically improved the consistency and green preparation of the milled product, something that has been applauded by Royal and many of our long time East Timor customers. This investment has helped more new customers appreciate the product for its quality as well as its organic certification.

CCT has one centralized drying facility where the parchment from the two wet mills can be properly dried and consolidated prior to being transported to the dry mill. This facility has 15 full time employees and 200 seasonal day workers. The Tibar drying facility is also the location where CCT helps its members with crop diversification by producing a fortified cassava (yuca) flour. This factory allows CCT to purchase dried cassava from members. CCT then processes the raw product so that it can be brought to market. Members are encouraged to grow pepper (black, red, and white), cloves, and vanilla within their coffee parcels. Did you know that vanilla needs to be hand pollinated? I certainly didn’t.

With the average age of the 1.1 million inhabitants being under 19 years old, the CCT cooperative members and Board of Directors realized that having the youth within the coop embrace education would bring valuable returns for members and their families. With this in mind the the East Timor Coffee Institute was created. This fully accredited institute has 3 full time faculty and 4 departments. What’s most inspiring is that this campus continues to grow. The graduating class of 2009 had 15 students, 2012 had 150 students, and 2016 had 200 students. Over 50% of the graduating students return to the family farm and implement the ideas and knowledge they have acquired in college, while the others move on to find employment in the cooperative, private enterprise, or local or national government posts.

In my 20-plus seasons of trading coffee and traveling to some of the countries and producers with whom we conduct business, I have never seen as extensive or well-run health service operations as I did in East Timor. The 21,000+ coop members vote annually to have the additional premiums they garner from the Fair Trade model allocated to the health care branch of the cooperative. They experience first-hand the benefits not only for themselves, but for their young growing families.

There are three categories of health clinics that are generally tied to the number of patients each one can annually serve. Clinic type 1/A can serve over 10,000 patients, type 2/B can serve between 5,000-9,999 patients, and type 3/C can serve between 2,500-4,999 patients. All clinics offer general care, dental care, prenatal care, and midwifery services. One of the small clinics I visited has a solar power panel allowing expectant mothers (and really anyone) to charge their phone and call the main clinic for urgent care needs or to schedule an appointment. The postnatal care not only helps new mothers but also ensures that newborns get the proper immunizations. Many of the larger clinics Type 1/A & Type 2/B also have birthing facilities where expectant mothers can rest and have a couple of days of postnatal care to ensure that the newborn baby is eating properly and the mother is healing well.

From Left to Right:
Marcia Suarez, Director of Health Services & Clinicians, Rowena S. Ituralde, Head Clinician, Alex Mason, Royal Coffee (author) and an additional CCT Clinician.

One of the unique aspects of the smaller clinics (Type 3/C) is that teams of clinicians made up of 1 male and 1 female travel from the midsize and large clinics to the remote ones to provide services. These folks will also be called upon for urgent care needs, be appointed for members in need, or assist with additional treatments.

As I reflect on my first visit to Timor-Leste, I take solace in the fact that Royal’s relationship with CCT is supported by many roasters of all shapes and sizes. Together, we have helped this disadvantaged island of over 1 million survive. Even further, the Fair Trade model that serves them best has provided health services to over 2 million patients!

I know that many more roasters want to keep producers in East Timor growing coffee. I invite you to ask for a sample, try a bag, or take a pallet of this coffee. By doing so, you aren’t only helping support the livelihoods of countless East-Timorese, you are also helping to provide health care services to help them thrive in a changing global economy.