Every morning, as you sit down to your leisurely perusal of the day’s news, a steaming cup of coffee in front of you, have you ever wondered where the coffee in your cup came from? Well, it just might be from the mountain slopes of Gudalur!
Coffee, in various forms, gets bought, traded and consumed all over the world and is the second most traded commodity after oil. However, for the tribal communities living in the misty slopes that dot Gudalur, coffee is a part of the natural cycle. Almost everyone here grows a little bit of coffee, either in their own land or in a leased plot. Coffee typically takes about four years to grow to maturity after being sown and the coffee here is completely organic, with only the leaves of the dal tree (grown near the coffee plants for shade) acting as fertiliser.
The community cultivates both Arabica and Robusta variety of coffee, distinguished from each other by their relative caffeine content. Arabica, harder to grow and possessed of a milder flavours enjoys higher prices compared to Robusta.
The coffee here is handpicked from the bushes, without the use of any machinery and then sun dried. Once the drying process is over, the coffee bean is sold, at market price, to the Adivasi Kappi Society, a farmers collective, who weigh the coffee bean before the eyes of the farmer, very important when you consider the rampant cheating that used to exist before the collective came into being.
Traditionally, tribal people have always been short charged in their dealings with the mainstream market. Often, as the farmers aren’t aware of the current market price they get cheated and are underpaid for the coffee beans that they sell. Not very well versed with the modern units of weight as well as unfamiliar with the use of currency, it was easy to cheat the average Adivasi cultivator.
To address these issues and to have a better bargaining power in the market, Adivasi Kappi Society was started under Adivasi Munnetra Sangam in 2015, with 22 members. Most members are small or marginal coffee growers with little to no bargaining power alone against the market, but who together, form a force to be reckoned with. Today, as a result of the intervention of the Adivasi Kaapi Society, farmers are no longer cheated by the retailers and small shop owners.
A part of the remuneration for the coffee is retained by the society in the form of savings and given back to the farmer as and when needed. Additionally, in order to discourage external debt and encourage greater enterprise, the society also grants loans to the farmers for the cultivation of coffee. All these measure combined have bought in a measure of independence and predictability to the lives of these small farmers.