“Don’t try to work with village people. It will be much more difficult for you.”
This warning from a business owner in Indonesia caused me to pause and carefully consider the path we were forging. Although that conversation took place over a decade ago, I have never forgotten it — though it was perhaps the best warning I ever ignored.
Has it been difficult? Absolutely! But despite the warning, I felt it was necessary to do what I could to help people who were living on $2 a day. Since that interaction, my conviction has grown even stronger that, difficult or not, working directly with villager may be the only way to create jobs among them. After all, there are mouths to feed in their families.
Has something noteworthy been accomplished? At the very least, it is now evident that village cooperatives can indeed produce food products for export. There are mouths to feed in the rest of the world as well.
Mouths to Feed in America
In 2012, we shipped 705 kg of packaged dried mangoes to the US. During the following years we have shipped and sold more than four tons of product, all of which went to mouths in America.
Mouths in America have noticeably different tastes than mouths in the villages of East Java. Ask a villager in Tiron to taste three different types of mango blindfolded and he/she will guess them correctly every time. On the other hand, the average American may not even be aware that three different types of mango exist. (Fun fact: over 200 mango varieties grow in Indonesia!)
Ask an American about dried fruit in general and you will discover an awareness of dozens of types of dried fruit products, which are soft, chewy and full of natural flavor. For an Indonesian, dried fruit has typically been deep fried in a pan of hot oil!
It was indeed a challenge to train people who have a very sophisticated knowledge of fresh mango to make a product that they had never seen, and that they didn’t even want to buy. After all, when the fresh product is so abundantly available in so many variations, a dried product doesn’t seem that appealing, unless it is fried and covered in hot chili sauce!
Nevertheless, these villagers succeeded where many thought they would fail. They produced an exportable product, maintaining hygiene and product quality standards required by certifying agencies. More importantly, they made a product that satisfies the tastes of Americans. And by feeding mouths in America, they are able to feed the mouths of their own families in Indonesia.