A visit to Gudalur and the ‘Just Change’ Producer Company

October 6, 2017
By Rang De Team
Rang De team members and social investors visited Just Change, an adivasi producer company in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu

The journey from Bengaluru to Gudalur is a rare treat. After the chaos of Bengaluru and the desolation of its suburbs, the road passes through two national parks — Bandipur and Mudumalai — before making it to the Nilgiri hills.

This was the sight that greeted the Rang De team and our social investors who were travelling to Gudalur to meet with the people behind ‘Just Change’ in the Nilgiris. Enroute, they were lucky to spot wild elephants, deer, nilgai and a variety of birds.

Just Change is a producer company that helps adivasis who grow and harvest agricultural produce sell directly to the consumers. Founded by Stan Thekaekara, Just Change’s model of marketing produce and developing linkages is radical in the way in which it brings together borrowers and social investors.

Just Change is a producer company that works with the adivasis in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu

At Stan and Mari’s beautiful house set amidst the rich hills of the Nilgiris, the conversation touched a variety of topics ranging from collaborative capitalism, community insurance and various inclusive methods through which we can improve millions of lives. Just Change was set up as a direct result of Stan and Mari’s passion for ensuring equitable rights for the adivasis.

Stan and Mari’s beautiful house in Gudalur

A key undertaking at Just Change is the ‘farm to cup’ initiative, which ensures that tea and coffee consumers from predominantly urban centres buy the products directly from the people who grow and harvest them. At Just Change, this passion for adivasi rights also translates to a healthy respect for the environment.

For the adivasis, the journey has not been easy

The history of Chembakolli village in Gudalur mirrors their fight for basic rights. The adivasis who were the original inhabitants of the forest, were displaced in huge numbers when Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu was declared a protected forest in 1940. Not only did the adivasis of Gudalur lose access to their traditional homes overnight, but they did not even own the lands of the estates they worked on.

As late as 1988–1989, not one adivasi owned land in the Chembakolli village, which was surrounded by plantations and estates.

Just Change originated as a movement to ensure that these adivasis got their rights, were awarded land tenancy, and got fair pricing for the products they sold. Over the years, concerted efforts by activists like Stan and Mari and the work of organisations such as Just Change has helped achieve all of these objectives.

Over the past decades, Stan and Mari Thekaekara have worked for the rights of the adivasis in Gudalur

Today, agricultural produce in and around Chembakolli is grown using natural, organic methods with the use of pesticides and insecticides being completely banned. Many adivasis own land in the village and the children in the community have access to schools in nearby Gudalur. One acre of cultivated land in the Chembakolli grows nearly 200–300 plants and produces nearly 6 tonnes of coffee. The tremendous development taking place in Chembakolli has prompted other villages in the region to do the same.

The challenge of financial inclusion

The lack of basic rights and resources was not the only problem faced by the adivasis of Gudalur. Any attempt by them to start a producer company was so far thwarted by the distance of financial institutions. Loans and capital were unavailable without collateral, and the Self-Help Group model had failed because they were unable to save money having to often live from one season to the next while paying exorbitant rates on the debts they had taken on.

In such times, the collateral-free, low-cost loans raised on the Rang De platform were tremendous help.

The low-cost loans provided by organisations like Rang De greatly helps adivasis in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu

You can support organisations like Just Change by making a contributing to a loan here.