I've just come back from a very exciting and fun field trip to North Sumatra, mainly to visit some of the coffee growers in an area around one of the big national parks. I've been doing a bit of work for an environmental project that's trying to reduce pressure on the land in around the park by encouraging farmers there to get more value out of their land by planting better varieties of coffee, using shade trees, and using less dangerous chemicals and/or organic pesticides and fertilizer. It was really good fun.
I went to a small, grubby village where the project set up a little coffee shop serving seven different types of premium coffee, dirt cheap or free to participating farmers, to try to get them to understand their product a bit better. Most of them just drink the same crappy coffee that everyone drinks in the cities these days. So, the shop roasts on the premises and grinds just before preparing to let the farmers know what it is that people are looking for.
The other thing was a demonstration farm where they have classes, with a bunch of plants that use the chemical fertilizers and pesticides and a bunch using the alternatives, so that people can see that the alternatives work just as well and are cheaper. At the moment, buyers don't really distinguish between the two, but if you get enough farmers all using the alternatives, they'll be able to get some kind of certificate which means that they'll be able to sell at higher prices.
A few days before I got there, a tiger got caught in a pig trap. They are pretty rare these days, maybe well under a hundred in a large national park. Her front lower leg had gone badly gangrenous, so they evacuated her out and amputated the foot. I went to the place where she was kept, but only saw her on a CCTV, because she's still pretty freaked out and wild, and the less people disturbing her the better. Nobody seems to know what they are going to do with her now, they are all still arguing. I went out with the rangers to see how they set up camera traps and saw the results. They've got good footage of about five tigers, but they can't estimate how many are still out there with the data they've got.
It's a really great area, not far from one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Toba. The people up there are all members of a few scores of clans, with about 50-50 muslim/christian. You find people in the same clan from different religions, and it doesn't seem to worry anyone. If there are fights and conflict, it tends to be between the clans, rather than between the religions.
Very exciting trip. I came back with a few hundred grams of cat shit coffee. Civets eat the coffee beans and shit them out in the forest, and then people go and collect them. They are very highly valued and expensive, with a lot of fakes around. I've always been a bit cynical of the concept, but since I'm pretty sure this is the real stuff, I'm going to give it a try.
Not to mention that I came home to find a very generous gift of some Anson's Imperial waiting for me! And a hundred grams of Cheeta.
Life is good.