Ayu Antariksa Rombe, Chair[wo-]man, Koptan Masagena, Indonesia


Kim & Ayu in 2016

I began working with Ayu in 2014, shortly after she began working with Koptan Masagena (cocoa farming co-op) in Masamba, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. She and Koptan Masagena have pioneered much with us. From very early fermentation and post-harvest processing experiments to recruiting women in their community for value-added experiments with snacking cacao and even completing our first import together.

Ayu has been my (Kim’s) primary contact for Koptan Masagena for two reasons – 1. She speaks English (and therefore is often “stuck” with me), and 2. she now leads the co-op.

I could gush about her for hours. But, to summarize… She is warm, welcoming, trustworthy, incredibly hardworking, devoted to family and friends, fearless, funny, incredibly smart, loyal, and the epitome of a servant leader. She is wise well beyond her years and entrepreneurial to the core. It is my privilege to work with her and to call her my friend.

Ayu & Kim's BIG Backpacks

If that we’re enough, here are a few other notable things about Ayu –

  • She was elected the first female head of a farmer co-op in her regency – before she turned 30!
  • She is an insatiable learner –– whether it be in languages, farming or leadership – anything that will help her to serve Koptan Masagena better.
  • If you meet her, you’ll feel like her best friend (ha ha - and she has many – over 4k in countless languages on FB)
  • She calls me Kak Kim which means, “Big Sister Kim” and carries a backpack nearly as heavy as she is – which means we were indeed cut from the same cloth.

With that, enjoy learning about Ayu and Koptan Masagena in Indonesia in her own words (or sometimes translated from Indonesian).

Donate to Flood Relief

Ayu and Her Family of OriginABOUT AYU ANTARIKSA ROMBE

Family & Early Career

I live in Masamba, North Luwu, South Sulawesi Province on the Island of Sulawesi, Indonesia with my husband and our two children. 

Ayu with her husband, Wandi, and two kids

I began working with Koptan Masagena in early 2014 immediately after graduating from college in 2013. Initially I was not that interested in cacao, I just needed a job after finishing my studies. But, as the work went on, there are many things that I think are very interesting. Until now, I have tried to keep learning about cocoa – it is very interesting to learn. As of this year, I even have two cocoa farms which I manage myself based on my knowledge.

Training to lead their Co-op

Since joining Koptan Masagena, I have received training in: Nutrition, Food Nutrients, Good Agriculture Practice, Certifications, Organic Fertilizer, Cacao Fermentation, Business Planning, Business Risk Management, Capacity Building, Accounting Management, and Negotiation and Public Speaking.

I work with many others, gain new knowledge and meet new people.

Proudest Achievement: being the first female co-op leader in North Luwu

My proudest achievement is that in 2018, I was elected to be Chairman at Koptan Masagena’s annual meeting. I am the first (and only) female chairman of a co-op in my region of North Luwu. As Head / Leader / Chairman, I am responsible for managing all co-op operations, the work of 13 staff, 42 co-op members and a network of 2,424 Rainforest Alliance certified farmers, including conducting a review of members' performance, and reporting on all related cooperative activities.

My Career Dreams

That it will be useful for many people. What I'm working on today in organizations can have a good impact in the future for others.

Favorite Aspect of Work

My favorite part of my work is when we make a new breakthrough – when coaching group members on creating a sustainable group through productive farmer programs.

How WE Can Support from around the Globe

Please share YOUR pictures. It will help cocoa farmers in our area, so that they are motivated to continue caring for their gardens [farms]. Also, we will try to provide motivation through simple training on making chocolate candy and cake so that they know the taste of chocolate.

Sharing reading, discussions and learning from various countries on increasing cocoa production. Consistency and commitment to the products, being able to work with outsiders, learning from our previous collaborations. I will try again in the future, that is the homework that I have to complete.

Ayu with her team on a farm


Being a Woman is a Plus Point in my Job

Being born as a woman and working among men is a plus point in my job. Women can work with their hearts. Women are more trusted to hold more specific activities or jobs related to data collection, for example, or finance.  Besides, nowadays women can vote for all to hear.

As a woman in this work, we can become an example for other women to continue creating, working, and being independent and can be useful for others. Women's voices can influence decision making. Now women are not underestimated anymore. They can take care of the household while working in the office, in the garden, anywhere. They can make decisions and have a big influence in society.

On-Going Challenges

Women are considered unable to work in the field [farms], can only take care of recording things that are not challenging. Women are said to be very weak. Even women are sometimes not given the opportunity to express their opinions, even their opinions are usually not listened to.

My Personal Experience

Of course it's different according to my personal experience while working with many men, women are more careful in working, tidier, thorough, disciplined. Women are still more able to control their emotions at work, work with their heart and with full consideration.

When I work, it must be according to my capacity. I will not impose my will on anyone. Every time I make a decision I will always ask for input from other friends. They respect that there are many decisions related to organizational programs that I have decided and run by the organization. For example - the division of work responsibilities in the organization.

The Biggest Support

I will tell you that the person who always inspires me is my colleague, who doesn't stop supporting, and never leaves me when I'm struggling with my tasks. He is Mr. Mustamin, my colleague who holds a senior role in the office, and shared many valuable experiences.

We work together on all projects. He inspires me because in any condition he remains committed to building an organization with the abilities that he has. No task is too difficult for him, he always shares what he understands, he is objective, kind-hearted and gives honest feedback.

Of course the biggest support comes from my family, colleagues, team, all of whom play an important role in my life because the processes that are happening right now in my life are all of the life processes that occurred while I was working in the cooperative.

Koptan Masagena Garden Training

Current Challenges for Koptan Masagena (post July 2020 flooding)

The program that my team and I planned [last week] is to help farmers whose gardens are affected by flooding. Their cocoa trees cannot be used anymore and will be cut down.

We will help provide cocoa seeds and vegetable seeds (corn) to plant in between the cocoa plants. I am waiting for harvest. We are preparing seeds to be distributed to farmers. Currently we are preparing good seeds. It will not be long because we have prepared for it in the nursery. We are just waiting for the records of farmers' needs from the field team. We are starting with farmers whose gardens are really affected by flooding. 

Cacao Seedlings for Koptan MasagenaOur plans for replanting cocoa are later than we hoped because in the last 2 years cocoa production has decreased, so we are also doing a program to improve cocoa. It is very difficult. According to our data, farmers are only able to produce approximately 400 kg /hectare / year. Currently there are many flowers / budding fruits on the cocoa tree, but all shed and did not produce. They cannot predicted so the cocoa farmers trust in plant production is decreasing. So we need more information regarding this incident. For that reason, we called the field team from PT Mars to help us convince the farmers to remain committed to maintaining cocoa, with recommendations for garden care from PT Mars.

In 30 years…

I hope that my wisdom, understanding, knowledge regarding cocoa can be shared with more people so that it can be applicable to sustain cocoa production as before. So that cocoa can become a commodity that you rely on and can have a big influence on the lives of cocoa farmers and their trust in the cocoa plant is back and prosperous.

Leave a comment