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The Toraja Project
Registered Charity CC26900

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                        June 09 Newsletter  

September 09 Newsletter       July 10 Newsletter       Travel Report 2010              

The origin of the project 

William Sabander, whose family are from Toraja, completed a PhD at Canterbury University in March 2005.   During his time in New Zealand, William saw the possibility of New Zealand farmers linking with farmers in Toraja to provide assistance at a practical level to Torajan agriculture.  This lead to an initial visit to Toraja by Graham Robertson in August 2004, and another visit by Graham and Dick Davison in April 2005. 

The result of these visits is a farmer to farmer, grass roots based project aimed at lifting the cash income of Torajan growers.   Early objectives include improving the production and post harvest management of coffee and passion fruit and finding markets for these products.

­Where is Toraja?

Tana Toraja is a highland area in the island of Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia.   The population of around 500,000 lives in small villages, cultivating rice and gardens in the valley floors, surrounded by  limestone and volcanic hills broken by steep bluffs and rivers.

The area is about 3 degrees south of the equator, with the climate moderated by the altitude (800 – 1,000 metres), with wet and dry seasons. The area grows paddy rice, a full range of vegetables and fruit, with pigs and buffalo hand reared for feasts. The houses and rice storehouses are built with distinctive curved roof shapes, decorated by detailed carved patterns.

The people

The population is scattered with two centres at Makale (administrative centre) and Rantepao (market town). Thought to be descended from Stone Age migrants originating in Vietnam, Torajan culture was based on village units (kampongs), headed by hereditary leaders, with conflict with each other and the neighbouring Bugi people. Toraja managed to remain relatively isolated and independent up until the beginning of the 20th century, when the Dutch ordered Sulawesi’s leaders to recognise Holland as their sovereign state

The Torajans resisted colonial rule until defeated and their leaders executed.  Indonesian independence in the 1950’s replaced rule by the Dutch in Jakarta with military dominated rule within the new Indonesia. In 2004 the first opportunity to elect the Indonesian President by popular vote was warmly supported.

The economy 

 The Indonesian rupiah (Rp) is currently exchanged at around Rp6, 000 to $NZ 1. The annual salary for a teacher is around 2.5 million rupiah or $NZ 3,500.  Access to Toraja is through the sea and air ports at Makassar (an hour’s flight from Bali by Boeing 737), and about 8 hours along a sealed but winding road to Makale. Internal infrastructure is occasionally good, although usually poorly maintained with the 3 good quality tourist hotels in Rantepao only just surviving.  

Children appear healthy and cheerful. There seems to be a determination to overcome the problems of distance from market and the culture of corruption associated with decades of colonial and military rule.  The local economy is largely based on very small farms with low levels of family income, with many young people from the region travelling to other parts of Indonesia and abroad in search of jobs.

Farming in Toraja

The subsistence agricultural system relies heavily on paddy rice with 2 crops a year, supplemented by fish reared in ponds and vegetables and fruit from small gardens. Primary education at village level appears available for all, but secondary and tertiary education restricted to the fortunate

While families are largely self sufficient in food, they do need cash income to meet family costs including education.   The most important cash crop is coffee and other cash crops include cocoa, passion fruit and vanilla.


Originating in central America, coffee is now widely grown around the world. The best coffee is produced at higher altitudes and due to its elevation, Toraja has a reputation for producing quality coffee.  The coffee is well known in Japan and several Japanese companies have over the years purchased coffee there and, on occasions, established their own plantations.

The trees or bushes are small and the fruit is very like a cherry.  The pulp is peeled and the kernel or coffee bean is dried before being transported and then roasted and ground ready for drinking.

In Toraja coffee is grown on the steep mountain sides under the cover of large forest trees.  Many bushes are growing wild with the best production coming from well tended “gardens”.

While some growers are managing their coffee gardens to a high standard, many treat it as a “catch crop” with little management input.   The best yields and finest quality are produced when the bushes are well pruned and harvesting, peeling and drying are carried out to a high standard.   Very little chemical fertiliser is used and bushes are usually fertilised with compost.   An insect pest is the Coffee  Borer Beetle and while some insecticide is used pheromone traps are now proving successful.


There is an increasing market sector among consumers in western countries looking for coffee that is rated “fair trade” and/or “organic”   Little change is required for farmers to qualify as organic while to be fair trade village farmers need to sell directly to western coffee companies at prices that normally include a premium over the free price.

At present growers are largely dependent on itinerant traders and middlemen to buy their coffee.  Often the need for cash means small farmers have little marketing power.  The farmers would like to form co-operatives to market their coffee and this can include the provision of advance payments to provide working capital prior to the coffee being sold.


Jalesa are a small Torajan organisation based in Rantepao.  They have a staff of around nine, most of whom are trained agronomists.   They are experienced at forming small village based groups as a basis for extension and educational activities.  This will include all aspects of social organisation in the village, management of the farmers’ crops, harvesting and marketing.

Jalesa are  able to assist in the formation of marketing co-operatives once the village farmers want to do this. The work of Jalesa is is funded by development agencies such as ourselves.   We are presently supporting two field officers.


Left click on photo to enlarge



South Sulawesi

Daniel & Graham

Toraja Family



Peeling coffee