Travelling long hours on the sometimes rough rocky terrain from the new Kualanamu International Airport is mandatory if you’re to reach the cooler altitude of Simalungun sub district in North Sumatra. Bah Butong tea estate, which we’ve been supporting to get Rainforest Alliance certified, is part of the 6000 hectares of state ownership of PT. Perkebunan Nusantara IV that owns 20 palm oil estates/factories and 3 tea estates.

Social and environmental certifications are essential in the Indonesia Tea Industry as 60% of its dried tea is exported. The challenge of meeting internationally recognised certification requirements is a long journey. It begins by gaining the support of Head Office and culminates with turning concepts into practice on the ground by workers and communities in the surrounding areas.

Bah Bia Water Sources (in the local language, Bah meaning water)Baskoro, estate manager of Bah Butong often reminded us, “Implementing the standards on the ground means changing the habits and attitudes of the community so that they’re more disciplined and appreciative of nature. Improving the infrastructure is easy, but changing mindsets is harder and can take years.”

The message was loud and clear for all of us, that behind every implementation programme there needs to be a deep understanding of what needs to change and why it should happen, as well as systems in place to sustain the changes.

Terracing is used to reduce soil erosionFor example, preserving water sources was seen as impossible at first. This is because there is an abundant amount of water all year round, which locals use for washing, cleaning, and drinking. However, the area is located in a bowl shaped contour surrounded by vulnerable soil, which if managed inappropriately could be eroded causing water pollution. In order to reduce risk it was important to educate the locals and help them take practical steps to preserve the soils using measures such as terracing.
Shells used as biomass fuel at factoriesManaging waste was also a difficult issue due to ingrained habits, but with effort and support from the local communities systems are now in place to manage it responsibly.

I’m happy to report that these and other issues have been overcome and in February the estate was finally awarded with their certificate. While both head office management and the estate have been rewarded for their hard work they fully appreciate that the journey to protecting the social and environment components have actually just begun.

Director of Production of PTPN IV, Ahmad Haslan commented, “The vision to preserve the environment and protect workers is always there – with certification comes increased competitiveness in the market, which we wish to sustain.”