Ermera, East Timor (#71). Where your Starbucks coffee comes from…
After gaining independence in 2002 from Portuguese rule and Indonesian tyranny, the tiny half-island nation of East Timor probably hoped for a bright future of development. But even in the capital Dili ahead of a gathering of Portuguese-speaking nations – for which a huge clean up was underway in June 2014 when I visited for week – it was clear from just a short stroll behind the waterfront lined with colonial architecture, that wealth has yet to reach Timor Leste. In the side streets, kids without clean clothes could be found living surrounded by garbage dumps and destroyed homes.
I was told by locals that of the country’s second largest export, coffee, around 60% goes to Nescafe, and 40% to Starbucks, and I was intrigued to witness the process. Apparently, 80 per cent of the East Timorese population is working in agriculture, and just getting in to the hills to witness them at work required patience and a strong will – outside of Dili, there are essentially no proper roads. I hired a local driver and a 4×4 to get in to the lush green mountains around Ermera, a few hours southwest of Dili, to bear witness to a culture where subsistence living is still common, and those that do make money, do so picking coffee beans from plantations far from modern civilization.