The Financial Times reported this week that subsistence coffee farmers in the Araku region of Andhra Pradesh set up The Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually-Aided Co-operative Society in 2006 to process the coffee grown through the Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based philanthropic organisation, which gave technical support with cultivation and marketed the farmers’ produce overseas.
Their coffee is grown bio-dynamically, requiring no costly fertilisers or agrochemicals; farmers enrich the soil through mulching, using leaves, fallen fruits and other freely available organic matter. They use inexpensive, herbal soil additives to enhance soil fertility and fight pests. It is produced using techniques similar to those in wine making and the variants which draw their flavours from the soil in which they are grown enjoy a guaranteed price as ‘speciality’ coffee.
Tribal people in the Araku region – Bagathas, Valmikis, Kondus and Poorjas – traditionally relied largely on collecting forest produce. The government has created a special developmental and funding plan for locals. The Times of India explains that in such ‘agency areas’, tribal people can use as much government land as much as they can till.
Amy Kazmin (FT) writes: “Ten years ago, the residents of Kabada Boddaput — in southeastern India’s remote Araku valley — were impoverished subsistence farmers, living in mud huts and eating the millet, yams, pumpkin and greens they grew on their one- to five-acre plots. Cash was scarce and emergencies meant borrowing from friends and family — debts that might take years to repay. ‘It was a very terrible situation,’ recalls Sanyasi Gullela, a farmer. ‘There were not enough clothes and no money for cattle.’ “ Daily life has improved, with the increase in income used to improve homes, buy more clothes and nutritious food.
The Times of India reports that four prominent businessman have taken up the cause of marketing Araku coffee and this is now being profitably sold as a “speciality” coffee to ‘select’ roasters and traders from Japan, Korea, and Europe. These ‘high-end’ buyers — who taste and rate each lot before purchasing — are willing to pay up to Rs700 per kg for the best of the beans.
It is economic heresy to wish that most of the coffee could be enjoyed in the huge number of coffee houses in India – including 400 outlets of The Indian Coffee House, a chain run by worker co-operative societies – and only the surplus exported.