Helianti Sharing the flavours of "Indigenous Indonesia"

Helianti Hilman is the Founder & Executive Chairperson of JAVARA – an ethical Indonesian food producer specialising in food biodiversity and community-based organic products.

Helianti remembers the beginnings of the JAVARA journey stirring on a visit to England; she found herself enchanted by a local gourmet store there. Returning to Indonesia, she went on to spend some time with a network of local farmers - it was this experience that really fixed the course of her culinary voyage.

“JAVARA started 10 years ago, almost by accident,” she recalls. “I met some indigenous farmers in Central Java who were keeping alive their heirloom seeds. They had been marginalised from the market as their product was difficult to sell.”

Accepting an invitation to visit their community network, Helianti set off on a three-month roadshow visiting and living with many indigenous communities in different regions. She shared their meals and began really understanding their deep connection with the food they grew. “It gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what the farmers were doing," she says. “They showed me that their sustainable food production practice is derived from their indigenous wisdom and spiritualism.”

Since those early days, people have remained at the heart of her work; Helianti’s company now connects with smallholder farmers, foragers and farmers in the tens of thousands, putting a growing portfolio of over 600 community-based, heritage products from across Indonesia on shelves around the world.

Flavours of the forest

This year, JAVARA started working with P4F partner PT Alam Bukit Tigapuluh (ABT) based in Jambi, Central Sumatra to market wild forest produce.

ABT holds a 38,655-hectare ecosystem restoration concession in the 400,000-hectare Bukit Tigapuluh (Thirty Hills) landscape – one of the only remaining landscapes where elephants, tigers, and orangutans coexist. Over the last 30 years, around half of its forest has been lost to agricultural expansion and mining activity.

To support the restoration of the forest and the local communities who depend on it, ABT is developing sustainable businesses from the products growing wild in the concession. The forest is rich in flavour, and P4F is helping ABT explore markets for different wild products like Dragon’s Blood resin and wild honey.

Photo © RLU

Wild forest honey is harvested from towering 'sialang' trees: named after the beehives that hang from their lofty branches.

Taking the honey to market

Drawn to its strong environmental and social impact story, Helianti and the JAVARA team partnered with ABT and P4F’s Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape Team to develop a brand for sialang honey that will sell in premium markets, both nationally and internationally.

Named after the giant beehives that adorn them, sialang trees bear a citrusy honey rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and known for its health benefits. ABT hopes that with JAVARA’s expertise, their sialang honey sales will secure reliable prices for local harvesters and processors.

Employing the hive mind

Helianti and the teams first met to begin brainstorming a branding concept for the honey. They trialled recipes in the JAVARA Food Laboratory before settling on the pilot collection. Along with jars of raw forest honey, the 30 Hills collection features other honey spreads infused with natural flavour, a honey vinaigrette, a honey food wrap and even honey chewy candies.

Prototypes from the 30 Hills collection which features honey spreads, a honey vinaigrette salad dressing, a honey food wrap and even honey candy.

Launching at the P4F Partner Exhibition last June, 30 Hills honey made its debut on shelves at JAVARA in August. This first batch to reach the commercial market sold out within two weeks.

JAVARA’s own success can no doubt be credited to the close relationships Helianti has forged with producers and her understanding of flavour. “I love travelling and cooking,” she explains.

I always love being with and meeting different people, especially from different cultures; you gain wisdom from all these amazing individuals”

In fact, Helianti says she chose the name JAVARA – meaning champion – to celebrate Indonesia’s farmers and its biodiversity. It’s because of this” she explains, “that we use the term ‘Indigenous Indonesia’ in our brand tagline.”

What next?

The revenue from sialang honey could be transformative for ABT’s concession. They estimate that it could cover a third of operational costs – including the cost of their conservation efforts in the area – heavily reducing the amount of donor funding they’ll need to make it a success story.

ABT and JAVARA have strong conviction that their 30 Hills brand will be a hit on the market. And with early signals looking good, they hope to expand sales to produce up to five tonnes annually. Together, they hope to bring more ‘gourmet flavours of restored forest ecosystem’ to global consumers who want to play their part in making biodiverse ecosystems thrive.