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Coffee With Heart From Timor-Leste


Clockwise from above: Sorting green coffee beans; Village houses; Women is the sorting shed; WithOneBean Coffee trike serving early morning coffees. Photos by Andrew Mahar


It’s early morning in the misty, humid mountains of Timor-Leste, one of Australia’s closest neighbours. Chickens and roosters roam free, smoke from the cooking fires fill the air and the village of Baguia is coming to life.

Paulino has been in his jungle garden since 5 am, working in the cool of the morning, collecting yams and sweet potatoes. His wife Fatima has been up for a few hours getting the cooking fire going and preparing a breakfast of rice and green vegetables for the family of ten.

At a farmers’ market in Melbourne, a coffee trike is in full swing, pumping out delicious specialty coffee from Timor-Leste, but this brew is different to most. The WithOne- Bean coffee trike is serving ethical and fair trade flat whites to its customers. But while those enjoying their coffees may not realise the impact it’s having on subsistence farmers like Paulino, each cup is making a real difference.

In Timor-Leste, subsistence farmers can generally expect a daily income of around 80 cents a day. However, in 2009 a unique enterprise model between farmers like Paulino and Melbourne-based social enterprise xpandFoundation was established. Life has since changed for villagers in communities like Baguia and Ermera (another remote mountain village).

WithOneBean is one of xpandFoundation’s four social enterprises, all of which have a stake in improving the lives of those in Timor-Leste. The enterprises give communities the power to determine their own futures, move beyond charity and aid, and provide opportunities for them to become financially independent.

As the CEO of xpandFoundation, I’ve been visiting Timor-Leste since 2003, working with mountain communities to build an enterprise model with farmers that focuses on positive social, economic and environmental impact. Generating social and economic change is at the heart of this work. The focus is on putting an earned dollar in a person’s pocket and empowering them to make decisions for themselves.

When my team and I spend time in these villages, we work closely with subsistence farmers such as Paulino to develop their capacity to improve crop yields and harvesting practices. Empowering women and increasing family income is one of our aims, and education and training is central to the work we do, which is why we’ve employed local teacher Leopoldina Guterres to manage the work in-country. Leopoldina is a community leader, mother and grandmother who understands the benefits of empowering her community and others like hers to build their own village economy.

This year, WithOneBean imported 20 tonnes of Arabica coffee from Ermera. The coffee cherries are picked by hand, wet processed and sun dried in the villages where they’re grown, then hand sorted in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. We pay above the local market price for the green coffee beans we bring to Australia, to ensure farmers get a fair price for their product and time. Beans are then roasted fresh at the WithOneBean micro roastery in suburban Melbourne, to ensure customers are drinking coffee within a week or two of it having been roasted.

Profits from coffee sales go back to fund environmental and educational projects, and for every kilo of coffee roasted, a tree is planted in Timor-Leste. This has become the first internationally certified carbon farming program in the country.

For almost ten years, WithOneSeed has worked with more than 750 farmers, planted more than 11,000 trees, contributed over US$250,000 to the local economy and removed more than 60,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. The enterprise sells internationally certified carbon credits, with all profits going to pay small landholder subsistence farmers to plant and manage forests.

So simply by drinking a WithOneBean coffee, the impact goes far further than just a caffeine hit. You’re not only directly supporting subsistence communities in Timor-Leste, but also initiatives that deliver direct environmental, educational and economic returns. These simple actions may seem small, but if enough people do them, such as drinking coffee that makes a real difference, a big impact can be had.

While this work is vitally important to us, it’s not really about today, but about the future; a future where children will get fed every day and where they will have a job. It is the future of this community.


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