Name: Gani Silaban
ARI Name: Gani (the Coffee Man)
Year at ARI: 2008
Organization: KSU Pom Humbang Cooperative
Position: Leader of co-op, Coffee farmer, trainer
Work area: North Sumatra
Other activities: Japanese teacher, Cultural exchange program coordinator
“We try to create job working [in] rural area to encourage people don’t go outside. So this is our challenging also as a leader, how to create job.”
Gani is a man all about coffee. As a farmer he grows it. As a businessman and entrepreneur he processes it and markets it. And as a lover of coffee he drinks it. Gani maintains, for a farmer to drink his own coffee is deeply important for it inspires him to strive toward high quality and gives him a sense of pride. As such, in addition to the training he gives in coffee growing, he encourages the farmers in his village to drink their coffee rather than following the surprising, common practice of using powdered coffee mix.
Gani’s venture into coffee started around 1999 when an economic crisis hit the country and he had to return to his hometown of Lintong, leaving behind his hotel and guide man career in Bali. Working in collaboration with the Japanese NGO Wakachiai Project, he was able to start an organic coffee co-op called APKLO which marketed unroasted beans to Europe and Japan. This ran smoothly until 2011 when coffee prices fluctuated dramatically and the co-op fell apart. After deep reflection on this “failure,” Gani decided to take a new approach. Rather than looking to bulk exports of raw materials which give a profit margin of only 20% he thought it better to look first to local markets for coffee that is roasted and packaged, which can bring profits of 80-150%, then to build the organization slowly on their own and without assistance from outside donors.
In that same year he started KSU Pom Humbang Co-op and took out a loan to build a coffee processing and storage facility. The co-op has 40 members and until the loan is repaid, all staff work on a volunteer basis; drying, hulling, and roasting coffee in addition to maintaining a website. Currently their coffee is sold within Sumatra with the exception of the highly exclusive, Kopi Luwak (directly marketed on Amazon as Wild Kopi Luwak), which is processed from coffee beans collected from the excrement of civet cats and made popular by the movie The Bucket List.
A natural born networker, Gani is constantly connecting with people such as NGOs, churches, schools, and local government. As a rural leader, he feels it is his responsibility to create opportunities for young people and proudly notes that half of the members of the co-op are youth. Furthermore, in 2014 he sent one of his farmers for training at ARI as part of a long term strategy to groom the next generation of leadership. “We try to create job working [in] rural area to encourage people don’t go outside. So this is our challenging also as a leader, how to create job.” Furthermore, Gani arranges cultural programs and homestays for Japanese college students and other foreign visitors to the area. He believes this exposure will help local farmers to expand their world view and broaden their thinking. When asked what gives him his seemingly endless energy he replied, “First coffee. Drink at lead three cups of coffee a day, [and second] I surely have a strong spirit because I love to do what I do.”