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Advancing Regenerative Agriculture in Indonesian Coconut Sugar Communities

August 09, 2022

We are proud to announce The Coconut Sugar Project, a program designed to advance regenerative agriculture in organic coconut systems in Java, Indonesia. The project was developed in collaboration with suppliers, farmers, and our partners at PUR Projet. The three-year project focuses on empowering farmers and strengthening ecosystems through farmer training, kitchen improvements for farming families, and technical assistance and seedling selection to enable farmers to implement agroforestry design.  

Here at Simple Mills, we’ve been long-time fans of coconut sugar because it’s an unrefined sweetener. Did you know it also comes from perennial trees that can help build soil health? Much like maple trees that produce syrup, coconut palm trees yield sap that’s dried and milled into coconut sugar.  

Coconut sugar has been produced in Java for centuries, and traditional harvesting and cooking practices have been handed down for generations. Typically, multiple household members are involved: farmers climb 50+ foot tall trees in the morning and afternoon to gather nectar from blossoms and then cook down the nectar in home kitchens. Harvesting and processing of the organic coconut sugar we use in our products are led by small shareholder farmers in Java, Indonesia. So, we’ve invested right at the source to support our growing partners directly.  

This program is one example of our commitment to regenerative agriculture at Simple Mills. We define regenerative agriculture as building ecosystem resilience through principles that consider the holistic context of the farm system, and follow six general principles, adapted from various expert sources including Understanding Ag, the NRDC, and various texts by Indigenous leaders. These six principles guide our approach and all of our programming, but we’d like to highlight three that come to life especially powerfully in this project. Learn more below!  


Honor Place  

Honoring place means taking the time to understand and respect the context of where you are farming – everything from the ecological setting and land management history, to economic and social considerations. To develop a feasible, relevant, and impactful program with our farmers, local representatives from PUR Projet spent several days with farming communities in Java hosting community discussion groups, performing baseline soil health testing, and observing existing harvesting and cooking processes.  

During these community discussions, farmers highlighted the aging and poor condition of many kitchens and cooking tools such as sieves and woks, which can contribute to challenges and delays in the processing phase. Farmers in this community do not have the access to capital required to invest in upgrades, so Simple Mills is partnering with farmers by designing and building new kitchens with better fuel efficiency, improved safety and hygiene features, and reduced risk of smoke inhalation and related irritation. Simple Mills is also providing new kitchen equipment, which is lighter, easier to use, more durable, and helps farmers produce higher quality coconut sugar.  

In addition to kitchen infrastructure improvements, Simple Mills is supporting the development of ongoing demonstration plot trials of a Dwarf coconut palm species, which is a smaller and easier to harvest variety of tree. The tall height of traditional coconut palms leads to yield limitations and safety risks to farmers who must climb the trees multiple times every day to harvest nectar. The goal is for these demonstration plots to generate learnings about the growing and yield of this new species, which can be shared within the community, with other growers, and external organizations that partner with coconut farmers.  

Keep a living root in the ground year-round  

Agroforestry is the intentional incorporation of trees into cropping systems – these thriving, diverse farm ecosystems depend on perennial species like coconut palms, which can help build healthy soil by keeping living roots in the ground year-round. Living roots in the ground year-round provide several ecosystem benefits including increased biological activity and nutrient cycling, reduced erosion, increased organic matter, and carbon sequestration.  

Coconut farmers in Java typically do not have access to resources to support development of management plans to improve soil health.  A key element of this project is providing technical assistance and trainings on organic and regenerative farming principles and soil health testing so farmers can develop management plans that benefit the long-term health of their land.  

To scale impact, we are implementing a “train-the-trainer” model, through which community leaders from several villages receive hands-on training and then share their learnings with other growers beyond those directly involved in the program. Local experts will also conduct follow-up visits to individual farms to support effective implementation of practices.  

Maximize crop diversity  

Most farming families we work with in Java predominantly rely on coconut sugar production for their livelihoods. Simple Mills is creating opportunities to diversify income and crop plantings through the addition of cash crops beyond coconut palms. Increasing crop diversity contributes to biological diversity above and below the soil and enhances farm resilience against threats such as extreme weather, pests, and diseases.  

Honoring farmer input and expertise from local agronomists and research institutions, PUR Projet is assisting farmers with parcel design that supports coconut palm production, while integrating other tree species to enable development of healthy agroforestry systems. Additional desired species such as vanilla, banana, and mangosteen grow well with coconut palms, diversify the system, and provide supplemental income and food to families.  

To ensure long-term sustainability of the agroforestry work, the field team is working with local nurseries to select healthy seedlings, will facilitate distribution and planting, and will perform ongoing monitoring and farm visits to provide technical support to farmers.  

Looking for a taste of this delicious sweetener? Try some of our favorite products made with coconut sugar:  

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