WASHINGTON - Coffee lovers the world over are unknowingly drinking coffee that was illegally grown inside one of the world's most important national parks for tigers, elephants and rhinos, according to an investigative report released today by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Illegally grown coffee from Indonesia is mixed with legally grown coffee beans and sold to such companies as Kraft Foods and Nestle among other major companies in the U.S. and abroad.
WWF tracked the illegal cultivation of coffee inside Indonesia's remote Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBS) all the way through its export routes to multinational coffee companies and the shelves of grocery stores across the United States, Europe and Asia using satellite imaging, interviews with coffee farmers and traders, and by monitoring coffee trade routes. Trade of illegal coffee is possible because neither exporters nor importers have any mechanisms in place to prevent the illegal beans from entering the supply chains.
Bukit Barisan Selatan, a World Heritage Site on the southern tip of Sumatra Island, is one of the few protected areas where Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. It has already lost nearly 30 percent of its forest cover to illegal agriculture, most of which is for coffee production.
"No consumer wants their morning cup of coffee to contribute to the demise of endangered tigers," Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US. "The findings in this report illustrate the challenge of ensuring that global trade respects environmental concerns. WWF works with corporations and governments to find solutions that work both for business and the environment."
Indonesia is the world's second-largest exporter of robusta, a kind of bean often used in instant and packaged coffee sold in supermarkets. At least half the country's coffee is exported through the port of Lampung, adjacent to the national park.
WWF's investigation found farmers growing coffee on more than 173 square miles of park land (about two-thirds the size of Chicago) and producing more than 19,600 tons of coffee there each year. Most wildlife has already abandoned the sections of the park that have been illegally converted to coffee plantations. Illegally grown coffee is exported to at least 52 countries.
The report determined that most of the companies buying the coffee likely were unaware of its illegal origins. WWF provided draft copies of the report's findings to the top recipients of Lampung coffee tainted with illegal beans from Bukit Barisan Selatan. The reaction of the companies has been mixed. Some companies are currently in discussion with WWF on how to avoid purchases of illegally grown coffee, boost production of sustainably grown coffee and restore wildlife habitat in the park, while others have denied any purchasing of illegally grown coffee.
"These companies can do better," continued Roberts. "The multinational coffee companies mentioned in this report should implement rigorous chain-of-custody controls to ensure that they no longer buy illegally grown coffee, as well as support park protection and restoration efforts."
WWF is also asking involved coffee-buying companies to work with local Sumatran growers and traders to provide incentives to switch to sustainable coffee production outside the park. The report recommends that Indonesian authorities prevent further encroachment into the park and develop regulations that prevent illegally grown coffee from infiltrating international trade.
Worldwide, WWF engages with a variety of businesses to improve their product sourcing. Part of WWF's overall strategy is to help companies find better ways to use their purchasing power to promote better agricultural and forestry practices.