Indonesian beauty queen founds indigenous coffee brand in her hometown of Lombok
- Beauty pageant contestant Mahniwati was born into a strong indigenous community on the Indonesian island of Lombok.
- During her historical reenactment activities, Mahniwati found that despite their wealth of natural resources, people in her community were often short of money.
- Seeing the potential of coffee to improve their livelihoods, she taught herself every step of the coffee value chain.
- She now shares her knowledge with farmers and promotes coffee produced by local women.
LOMBOK, Indonesia – In the northern foothills of Mount Rinjani, an active volcano, sits a coffee plantation and processing facility that doubles as a training ground. Here, among Arabica trees and crates of ruby red coffee cherries, Mahniwati, an indigenous Bayan woman and beauty pageant winner, helps farmers improve their produce and livelihoods.
The plantation is in the village of Senaru on the Indonesian island of Lombok. Since the 1970s, Senaru has served as the starting point for one of six hiking trails leading to the 3,726-meter (12,224-foot) peak of Rinjani. With hundreds of trekkers arriving daily, much of the village infrastructure is dedicated to tourism, and the main road is lined with restaurants, guesthouses, hotels and trekking services. But the 2018 earthquake changed everything.
In August of the same year, a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Lombok and was followed by several nearly as large aftershocks. The epicenter of the main shock was at Semblan, just east of Senaru. Five hundred and sixty-three people across the island were killed and local authorities said 80% of public buildings in North Lombok district, where the village is located, were damaged or destroyed. This included Senaru, where tourism was decimated. Not all of the damage had been repaired when another disaster struck: the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. This further slowed the sector and many tourist facilities have still not been rebuilt.
Prior to the earthquake, the agricultural lands of Senaru had been abandoned as the villagers opted for the more lucrative income from tourism. But after the twin crises of the earthquake and COVID-19, residents have returned to the land as the foundation of their livelihoods – and to coffee as a lifeline.
“The only product in high demand during the pandemic is coffee,” Mahniwati told Mongabay.
Mahniwati was born and raised in an indigenous community in the Bayan sub-district of North Lombok, of which Senaru is a part. The region is home to deep-rooted traditions and is synonymous with wetu teluan Islamic belief system incorporating ancestral worship whose practitioners pray three times a day, instead of five.
Before she started supporting coffee farmers, Mahniwati was a contestant in the Miss Tourism beauty pageant, organized by the government to promote cultural tourism. She won the title of “preferred” contestant at the provincial level in 2015, and her duties in the competition activities included promoting Bayan cultural practices. Through her Miss Tourism platform, she has worked to broaden people’s often narrow understanding of wetu telu, which she says is often misinterpreted as a heretical form of Islam.
However, Mahniwati said she struggled with the demands of the role and had reached saturation point. She felt that something was missing in her life’s journey. It was during this time that she often remarked that the indigenous people of Lombok were rich in natural resources, but still poor in money.
It was then that she realized the potential of coffee. “Most of the coffee plantations in North Lombok are owned by indigenous communities,” Mahniwati said. When she learned of the price the farmers received for their beans, she was deeply saddened; she knew the price of a cup of coffee in a cafe and the price of bags of coffee which she often helped promote in her role as Miss Tourism.
“Imagine coffee beans sold by the kilo for 20,000 rupees [$1.32, or about 60 cents a pound]even though it is high quality organic coffee,” she said.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest producer of coffee, of which it exports a large part. According to the official statistics agency, 96.6% is produced by small farmers like those in Bayan. Smallholders most often sell their harvest to large corporations through multiple layers of intermediaries, which often means they end up with low prices.
Find out how forced Mahniwati was to act. During the difficult period following the earthquake, she learned first-hand every step of the coffee value chain: maintenance of the coffee trees, harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing and marketing. She also got her barista certification.
Mahniwati often spends time on the plantation to accompany the farmers. Initially, it was viewed with suspicion: while more women than men are employed at every stage of the process, the coffee business here has long been seen as a man’s business. The presence of Mahniwati, as an academic and former Miss Tourism, helped awaken this silent majority of women farmers, processors and vendors.
To build its capacity to support them, Mahniwati partnered with Nursaat, a coffee producer in Senaru with a home processing facility. At the plantation and later at the processing plant, Mahniwati teaches farmers, most of whom are over 50, the importance of picking only red coffee cherries, how to clean them, remove their skins, dry the grains and roast. their.
“In the past, it was very difficult to ask farmers to pick only red coffee cherries because it was seen as a problem,” she said. “After a long time, they finally realized that the price of red cherries was higher, and then others followed.”
With beans provided by Nursaat, Mahniwati developed the coffee brand and Kon Bayan coffee. Kon Bayan has a double meaning: Kon means “at”, so Kon Bayan directly refers to location. “That’s one of the reasons why I used the name Bayan – to show that Bayan has a lot of potential,” Mahniwati said.
Kon is also a combination of the Indonesian words kopi (coffee) and nina (woman), meaning the women’s cafe of Bayan. The logo features a Bayan woman dressed in her distinctive ceremonial clothes with a coffee bean in her outstretched palm.
Banner image: Mirnawati in front of the old Semokan Ruak Mosque in Bayan district while witnessing the traditional Eid ritual. Photo by Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay Indonesia.
This story was reported by the Indonesian Mongabay team and first published here on our indonesian site on August 22, 2022.