When I first sat down with Lastiana Yuliandari, founder and director of Indonesian award-winning social enterprise Aliet Green, she told me her success was “by accident, everything happened by accident.”
Fans of our Magic All-One Chocolate may already know we sweeten all flavors with organic, fair trade, and now Regenerative Organic Certified™ (ROC™) coconut sugar. What you likely don’t know is the woman behind the magic.
With Aliet Green becoming ROC just last month, I was lucky enough to meet with Lastiana and learn what makes her work so unique. My time with Lastiana left me with one key takeaway: every decision is made with the intention of what will best support her farmers, the local community, and our planet.
A Serendipitous Beginning
I was eager to learn about Lastiana’s journey to success and discovered every step of her career was rooted in a deep desire to help those facing adversity. While her parents and siblings led government jobs, Lastiana carved out her own path, working with nonprofits in child protection, immigration, and women-empowerment, all by the age of nineteen.
Everything changed in 2009, when the West Java earthquakes struck her hometown of Yogyakarta, causing severe damage to tens of thousands of homes and devastating the local economy. At the time, Lastiana was studying to become an English teacher while continuing her nonprofit work – but felt the need to step in and support her community. She knew the backbone of the local economy was upheld by farming, particularly of coconuts—an important crop for maintaining local farmers’ financial security. As the prices for coconuts plummeted, Lastiana saw an opportunity: take what she learned from her nonprofit work and help these local farmers.
The Promise of Coconut Sugar
Lastiana, a young woman in a male-dominated market with no prior agricultural experience, set out to do the unthinkable. At the time, local farmers were already harvesting coconut sugar. In fact, Indonesia was the first country in the world to begin coconut sugar production. It’s a reliable product for farmers because it can be harvested daily by collecting and heating the sap of the coconut palm until the water evaporates, leaving a granulated sugar. Coconut sugar has many of the nutrients and health benefits of coconuts, a major reason why Dr. Bronner’s chose this alternative sweetener over sugar cane.
Lastiana knew if local farms could implement organic and fair trade agricultural practices, they could begin selling to international markets, raise prices, and provide steady incomes for farmers. But when banks denied her credit loans to start the business, her only option was to build the company entirely off of her own personal savings.
Putting Farmers First
Despite her humble beginnings, Lastiana stayed true to what was best for her community. As Lastiana puts it: “farmers do not get a chance for being treated well in the area where they produce so much. Their products are everywhere, but they still have issues with living wage. So that was basically a trigger for me to establish Aliet Green different right away from the beginning. But of course, at the time our capital was small.”
Starting with just fifty farmers, Lastiana worked to implement organic and fair trade practices, even learning global standards from hours researching YouTube videos. She learned how to become fair trade certified from the local coffee bean farmers, and various international organic certifications from the organic rice farmers in her region. Through her team’s collective efforts, Lastiana’s farmers worked to build soil health by eliminating the use of pesticides and diversifying their crops using Dynamic Agroforestry (DAF)—a farming method that mimics nature by interplanting a variety of tree, ground, and root crops that support each other and the health of whole ecosystem.
Lastiana also ensured she was employing members of her community equitably. As a young woman herself, she made it a priority to employ women in the community, particularly women from disadvantaged backgrounds without access to education. Lastiana explains that from the start she needed “to make sure that the women can participate as well. So, the community can gather no matter what the gender is, sometimes the women basically gave up their seats only for the men, for example, for training and so on. So, it took me a while to be able to make them understand about this this concept because it was completely new back then.
A Fair Trade Success Story
Lastiana’s environmental and social equity initiatives were new to the community but worked tremendously well, and Aliet Green became the world’s first organic and fair trade coconut sugar producer in 2013. What began as a small operation has now grown to a thriving business that works with over 1,500 farmers! As Aliet Green’s network of farmers expanded, Lastiana continued to focus on employing community members with disabilities and those who were facing adversity. Today, Aliet Green has its own coconut sugar processing facility with what Lastiana calls her Green Warriors, or her “extended arms,”—a team of twenty-five women who lead the coconut sugar production process. By opening up coconut sugar to the global market, the price paid to farmers for their coconut sap has increased by 400-500%, providing economic stability to Lastiana’s community.
By becoming fair trade, a portion of the Aliet Green’s revenues are dedicated to a Fair Trade Premium that funds community improvement projects. While most fair trade certified companies provide these funds to a third-party fair trade cooperative, Lastiana decided it was crucial her team directly manage these funds for full transparency on how they’re bettering the community. Over the years, her team has funded everywhere from higher education scholarships to infrastructure repairs, even building a new school for the community. In 2021, Aliet Green’s exceptional work was honored by the UN Food System Summit for Best Small Business, one of only fifty winners in the world. Most recently, Aliet Green became the world’s first Regenerative Organic Certified coconut sugar producer, a third-party certification that holds the highest standards for soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.
Farming for a Regenerative Future
With so much success behind her, I was eager to learn what’s next for Aliet Green. Lastiana’s goals for the company hold true to who she is at her core – putting more systems into place to support the growth and wellbeing of her community, especially while the effects of climate change continue to impact the land. She’d like their vanilla production to become as successful as coconut sugar to support the diversification of the ecosystem and economy. Aliet Green plans to develop a water management system that can provide stability for farmers in the event of droughts exasperated by climate change. She’s also focused on training her communities on the causes and effects of climate change, and how it can impact their daily lives. Lastiana shares, “I did not expect to have 1,500 farmers, you know? I’m happy that people trust me, but it’s also a big responsibility… I’m not only responsible for 1,500, but each family consists of four members. You know, it’s 6,000 so on.” As Aliet Green continues to grow, one thing is clear: every decision will be made with the best intentions for the farmers, their families, and the greater community.
Learn more about the groundbreaking work of Aliet Green at AlietGreen.com