Indonesia's coconut sugar could become sweet memory

GONDORESO, Indonesia (Reuters Life!) - It’s sweet, cheap and all-natural, but freshly produced coconut sugar has yet to find a profitable market in Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest importers of the sweetener.

In an era where most sugar comes neatly packed and from processing mills, a group of farmers in East Java province are relying on an age-old, home-based method to produce a sweet, coconut variety which is all but dying out.

Once the world’s second-largest sugar exporter in the 1930s, Indonesia is now a major importer. Most of the sugar available is white, refined and from cane, making this traditional form of coconut processing a rarity.

In Gondoreso village in the tropical East Java province, farmers climb coconut trees twice a day to collect the sticky sap that makes the sugar.

They then take the sap home, heat it in huge woks until a thick liquid is formed and then pour that into special moulds, made of coconut husks, where it is left to harden.

Many Indonesians say the dark, raw lumps of coconut sugar are a turn-off, but farmers like Wijiono are determined to keep the tradition alive with the help of a government program that allows state-owned refiners buy the sweet stuff from the farmers.

“We hold on to this traditional way of making coconut sugar because if we produce all the sugar with modern mills it will kill these farmers,” said Wijiono, who only goes by one name.

Reporting by Pipit Prahoro, editing by Miral Fahmy and Sugita Katyal