Although ASNIKOM had agreed to exclusively work with our service for foreign buyers, they didn't inform us when an Indonesian representative, Ontosoroh Coffee, working for a European import company, This Side Up Coffee, approached them to buy large amounts of their so-called Fine Robusta in September 2018.
In August 2019, we surprisingly discovered a problematic situation - a clear instance of neo-colonialism and the exploitation of farmers.
This Side Up Coffee had requested Ontosoroh Coffee to find specialty coffees, and that led to the purchase of "Fine Robusta" from ASNIKOM.
This Side Up Coffee, known for promoting openness and direct trade with its customers, fell into a trap due to their lack of concern for the farmers. Similarly, the farmers were also taken advantage of because they didn't have enough information. Both sides acted very trustingly.
Following the Two-Kings-Principle, we don't haggle over the price the farmers set, as we know they're providing us with their very best, which is of specialty grade. For Fine Robusta, they ask for Rp 85.000 per kilogram (5,31€).
However, Ontosoroh Coffee, representing This Side Up Coffee, only offered Rp. 57.500 per kilogram (3,56€). At this low price (in 2018), ASNIKOM agreed to sell them grade 2, also known as premium quality.
ASNIKOM itself only makes grade one beans, and because they had a large quantity to collect, they obtained beans from non-members. Because of this, they asked Ontosoroh Coffee not to mention ASNIKOM as the producers.
In September 2018, Ontosoroh Coffee placed an order for 6,000 kilograms of Robusta (pulped natural) and 3,000 kilograms of Robusta (natural).
By that time, the harvesting season in Flores was almost over. ASNIKOM could only produce 3,000 kilograms of pulped natural and 6,000 kilograms of natural beans (which was the opposite of what was requested). To help, ASNIKOM bought grade 2 beans from non-members and sorted them.
Due to time constraints and Ontosoroh Coffee's urgency to ship the coffee, he transported all the beans to Salatiga, East Java, to have them sorted there under his supervision and by his own team.
At that point, ASNIKOM had only managed to sort 3,000 kilograms of pulped natural and 1,020 kilograms of natural beans. The remaining 4,980 kilograms were sorted, more or less, in Salatiga. None of the beans were packed in bags yet, and they were mixed together again once sorting was completed.
When the beans arrived in Europe in March 2018, shortly thereafter, This Side Up Coffee had to address disappointed customers (coffee roasters). The quality of the beans didn't match the samples they had received earlier. It wasn't the grade one quality they had anticipated.
It's important to note that This Side Up Coffee sold a kilogram of coffee for 6.05€. Any roaster aiming for fair treatment of farmers shouldn't expect to get top-notch quality beans for such a low price. It was disappointing to discover that a well-known roastery, which emphasizes fair trade, actually purchased these under-priced beans.
Ontosoroh Coffee was informed by This Side Up Coffee, and he, in turn, informed ASNIKOM and placed the blame on them, even though most of the sorting was done by his own staff, who mixed all the beans together.
Ontosoroh Coffee also requested a price reduction of Rp. 10.000 per kilogram (62.5 cents). ASNIKOM was in a difficult position because Ontosoroh Coffee had retained 55% of the payment and had only paid 45% of the total amount up to that point, despite having received the full amount before shipping (as we were informed).
After learning about ASNIKOM's arrangement with This Side Up Coffee, we reached out to Lodovikus Vadirman, the head of the cooperative.
He was very open and told us about the missing payments. Ontosoroh Coffee had sent 45% at the end of April 2019 after the coffees arrived in Europe. He had then promised to send the remaining 55% later in June 2019. However, nothing happened. ASNIKOM couldn't reach Ontosoroh Coffee and were informed that This Side Up Coffee hadn't paid the 55% yet.
As mentioned earlier, we miraculously got in touch with This Side Up Coffee. We tried to clear things up. This Side Up Coffee were surprised to learn that ASNIKOM hadn't received the full payment.
So, Ontosoroh Coffee had not been truthful with both ASNIKOM and This Side Up Coffee.
Another issue came to our attention: Ontosoroh Coffee received 100 bags of pulped natural (each bag containing 60kg) which totals 6,000kg, and 38 bags of natural, which is 2,280kg. However, as we noted earlier, it was the opposite.
So, Ontosoroh Coffee once again deceived This Side Up Coffee by incorrectly labeling the bags, simply to meet the trader's request. This is another reason why some roasters were dissatisfied with the beans they received. ASNIKOM's farmers can actually determine how the beans were processed just by smelling and looking at them.
ASNIKOM has faced many difficulties with buyers and export companies, and every time they suffer as a result.
They asked us for help.
At that moment, ASNIKOM realized that this problem might have been avoided if they had involved us from the start. We don't blame them for this because it's all part of the learning process.
Following the Two-Kings-Principle, we want them to "keep growing as individuals, becoming more self-reliant, and truly understanding the real value of their work and product. They should have the power to freely decide who to sell to and for how much." These farmers have been kept in the dark and treated as if they were inexperienced and even foolish for many years.
The truth is, they are kind-hearted people who just don't expect others to act selfishly. It's difficult for them to tell who is sincere, honest, and genuinely interested in them as individuals.
If anyone outside of Indonesia is interested in buying grade one coffee beans from ASNIKOM, they now have to get in touch with us. We believe that if farmers are approached by an export company or trader, they will come to us for assistance.
Initially, the plan was to have the farmers, beans, and prices listed on ASNIKOM's official website, which we were instructed to create and manage for them. However, due to the changes in our adjusted "PURIFIED Two-Kings-Principle" at the start of 2023, we are no longer able to do this on behalf of ASNIKOM. Instead, we are doing this for individual coffee farmers who have requested to uphold this principle without compromise.
The good Fight
This Side Up Coffee doesn't appear to be ready to let go of their connection with Ontosoroh Coffee, and they're already discussing a second import with them.
Once again, this leaves us in disbelief. We will be closely monitoring their website to see if ASNIKOM is mentioned as the producer and a reliable source for the grade one coffee they offer.
If this is the case, we will strongly object because they never received any beans that were "grown, processed, and sorted" by ASNIKOM.
The journey to eliminate colonialism, or even neo-colonialism, is still a long one. Five hundred years of thinking can't be changed in just a few moments or with a few kind words. It requires much more.
Family instead Partner
We stood alongside ASNIKOM, urging the Indonesian representative to fulfill the remaining payment. Unfortunately, This Side Up Coffee expressed concern that if the Indonesian representative's company went bankrupt, the money would be lost, and ASNIKOM wouldn't receive the payment.
This suggests that This Side Up Coffee might not take responsibility for the situation, as they stated they had already paid 100% to their representative in Indonesia. However, we haven't seen any proof of this.
We reminded This Side Up Coffee about their commitment to prioritize the farmers, but it seems ASNIKOM is being used solely for their benefit. They seem to be primarily interested in the end product, which is the green beans.
We sincerely hope that all the positive statements about "caring for the best of the farmers" are not just a misuse of marketing language. If Ontosoroh Coffee in Indonesia truly faces bankruptcy, This Side Up Coffee must find an alternative solution to ensure ASNIKOM receives their payment.
Last Update: 20 January 2020
On September 4th, the Indonesian representative called ASNIKOM (with some pressure from This Side Up Coffee) and mentioned that he would make the remaining payment in two installments, one on the upcoming Friday and the other the following week. He stated that he had just received the money from This Side Up Coffee.
However, he only transferred 16% of the money, which is a fraction of the 55% he still owed ASNIKOM.
We are still waiting to see when he will transfer the remaining 84% of the money. He did not keep his promise and informed ASNIKOM today that he is still trying to gather the rest of the funds.
We have already advised This Side Up Coffee to remove the name of ASNIKOM from their website. This is because we cannot confirm if they truly received the beans from ASNIKOM, as their Indonesian representative made numerous errors and sent the coffees from East Java. Furthermore, the representative has not paid the remaining amount owed.
Regrettably, This Side Up Coffee did not respond to this situation. They have not provided any updates regarding this significant issue. Instead, they have shared attractive photos from their two-day visit to ASNIKOM, which was their "one and only direct visit," a few weeks ago (mentioned at the end of September 2019).
Since then, we have not received any news from ASNIKOM. Without prior knowledge, at the beginning of January 2020, ASNIKOM agreed once again to send their Robusta grade 1 to Ontosoroh, this time in a slightly larger volume of 9,600kg. The agreed price was Rp. 70,000/kg (Farmgate price). We are puzzled here in Döbeln and Jakarta, as it appears that ASNIKOM once again followed Ontosoroh's rules, despite there being no payment at all (even for the remaining 84% of the money from the last purchase). The total sum is certainly substantial for ASNIKOM, amounting to 44,800€ (using the exchange rate of Rp. 15,000).
We were informed that ASNIKOM felt they had no other option, as in 2019 they were told by Ontosoroh, on behalf of This Side Up Coffee, that there would be a 9,000kg order for fine Robusta grade 1. Due to the previously mentioned complications, This Side Up Coffee seemed to need more time to gain trust from potential international buyers. ASNIKOM had already completed the production of these 9,000kg, but due to the complicated situation, they were left waiting. While ASNIKOM expressed a preference to solely use our service, they kept a backdoor open for Ontosoroh.
The newly purchased (but unpaid) 9,600kg of fine Robusta was sent to Yogyakarta, where all the bags would be repackaged. There is a significant concern that Ontosoroh might engage in some form of deceit with regard to this entrusted merchandise, as he has done in the past with his partner, This Side Coffee. ASNIKOM lacks the ability to verify the contents of the bags after repackaging. As a result, none of us will know if the bags later claimed by Ontosoroh to contain fine Robusta from ASNIKOM actually contain genuine beans from ASNIKOM.
ASNIKOM was informed that 60% of the value from the 9,600kg would be paid once these bags were en route from Jogjakarta. We inquired with ASNIKOM regarding the remaining 84% of the outstanding debts, but there has been no communication from Ontosoroh regarding when he plans to make this payment.
On January 31st, 2020, we received information that the 60% for the newly ordered coffees was paid, but there still had been no payment for the 84% of the outstanding debts. ASNIKOM hoped to have this debt settled, along with the 40% of the new order, by the end of March 2020.
In order to support ASNIKOM, we personally traveled to visit Coffee Circle in Berlin, who had been a major buyer from This Side Up Coffee in the previous complicated situation. They decided not to purchase from ASNIKOM anymore, even though they only received grade 2 (or possibly even lower quality, thanks to Ontosoroh). We proposed our "Single Farmer Origin" under the Two Kings Philosophy to Coffee Circle, but ultimately, price was the primary concern for them. They viewed the liberation rights we granted to small-scale farmers as excessive.
Ultimately, what truly matters in the end of this story is the price of the green beans and the "storytelling selling points" they may have missed out on due to placing trust in the wrong partner, such as This Side Up Coffee. Rather than rectifying their course and choosing the right partner, they opted to conclude their trial with ASNIKOM. We felt a deep sense of regret for this decision.
However, we hold the belief that there are still other reputable roasters out there, beyond us, who are dedicated to ethically sourcing coffee. We were delighted to get acquainted with James Harper through his podcast channel, FILTER STORIES. He shed light on exceptions and case studies where small-scale farmers face challenges worldwide. This is an encouraging sign. Together, we can work towards positive change!
Here, you can read about our journey that began in early 2015, detailing how we have cultivated a direct trading relationship with ASNIKOM.