Subject: AU: University lends Timor a hand with coffee

The Australian

SCU lends Timor a hand with coffee

Brendan O'Keefe | August 01, 2007

EAST Timor's fledgling coffee industry would collapse without proper training in sustainability for growers, according to an Australian academic who is showing the neighbours how it's done.

This week, nine lecturers from the East Timor Coffee Academy are visiting Southern Cross University in northern NSW - a coffee-growing hub - to learn the perfect blend for keeping their industry alive and thriving.

SCU environmental science lecturer and project co-ordinator David Lloyd tells the HES that most of East Timor's coffee trees were planted in the 1920s and have not been tended properly since the Portuguese colonists pulled out in 1975.

"They have not been pruned in the past 30 years," Lloyd says.

"The skill base was lost when the Portuguese left."

The family-based industry is best suited to small plots that blend in with local forests.

But the growers have in the past been advised to copy Australian or Brazilian production.

"That would mean cleared land and dense planting with no overstory," Lloyd says.

"If they did that, they would lose the industry. Coffee is an understory tree in rainforests ... it's like picking wild berries rather than a harvest."

Lloyd is teaching the East Timorese about planting research plots so they can "assess what works and what doesn't".

"We're exposing them to a lot of different concepts in agroforestry and forestry for amelioration of land degradation," he says.

Academy president Lucio Marcal Gomes says 18 per cent of his country's economy is built on coffee. He says plantations are handed down through generations and that it is customary for hosts to give traditional dark, strong coffee to visitors.

But as East Timor plans to start a tourist industry soon, he hopes to learn what different styles of the drink are popular with Westerners and how to produce the various beans.

The academy opened in May 2003 and has 200 students, Gomes says.

Lloyd says coffee beans generate 90 to 100 per cent of income in some of East Timor's rural districts as an export crop.

"It is sold as fair trade organic rainforest coffee, so they're getting a premium price but they have to maintain quality to achieve that," he says.

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