Dili, 18 May 2017 - “Ita gosta hemu café?” (Do you like to drink coffee?) is a standard greeting when visiting a Timorese home, given that 25% of all households in Timor-Leste grow their own coffee. And drinking fresh coffee in a Timorese home is quite an experience: always strong, black and loaded with sugar, with thick coffee grinds settling in the bottom of the cup.
Yet this experience is moving beyond Timor-Leste’s shores. In upmarket cafes around the world, Timor-Leste’s rare Arabica/Robusta hybrid coffee variety, Hibrido de Timor is now becoming much sought-after for its quality, with exporters prizing the coffee for its productivity and resistance to disease.
The coffee industry is a central part of Timor-Leste’s economy, society and history having been a valuable source of employment and income for over a century, and is considered one of the key economic growth areas that will help reduce the country's reliance on oil and gas revenues.
Yet for too long, Timor-Leste’s coffee industry has been hampered by poor transport infrastructure; a key example is the Dili-Ainaro Road. This 110 kilometer road runs right through the middle of the country, providing the main transport corridor from the North to the South of the country, connecting the districts of Dili, Aileu and Ainaro through the rugged central highlands, which jointly account for a third of the country’s population and much of the country’s coffee industry.
The Dili-Ainaro Road could – or should – be the road to opportunity for the thousands of families who rely on coffee to make a living. It provides the main trade route for coffee farmers to get their crop to the markets in the capital, Dili or beyond; to export overseas from Dili’s bustling sea port.
Yet after decades of little maintenance the narrow, winding and potholed Dili-Ainaro road – depending on the time of year – varies from bearable to almost unpassable. During the wet season (generally December to April), heavy tropical downpours can cause mudslides, blocking sections of the road, or washing away entire sections.