Building an organic, adivasi-run coffee brand in the hills of Tamil Nadu

November 22, 2018
By Rang De Team

 

Cultivating coffee beans is a tricky proposition. With the steady rise and popularity of coffee across the globe, its retail price has steadily increased over the decades. Even as the average consumer pays more for her daily cup of coffee, this has not necessarily translated to better prices for the coffee growers.

This year, as the global coffee prices have crashed, coffee growers in India, beset by poor harvests and a slump in the market are dealt a double blow. It is not just the plantation owners who are affected. Irrespective of the market for coffee, there are another set of producers who are shortchanged when it comes to getting the right price for their produce: the adivasis.

In Gudalur, a densely forested region in the Nilgiris hills of in South India, the members from the adivasi community, who grow and harvest natural, organic coffee were constantly shortchanged by the traders and the middle men purchasing their produce. The was done in various ways: under-representing the weight of the produce, understating the market price or exploiting the lack of knowledge of the community members.

 

‘Just Change’ and fair trade

To address the issues faced by adivasi cultivator, the Adivasu Munnetra Sangham, an organization working for the rights of the adivasi communities in the region, started the ;Adivasi Kappi Society’, an adivasi farmer’s collective.

Coming together under the farmer collective has greatly benefited the farmers. It has given them greater bargaining power when it comes negotiating the price for their produce. The Society also retains some of the money of the coffee cultivators and arranges for low-cost finance through organizations like Rang De.

All of this was made possible by Stan and Mari Thekaekara, the founders of Just Change India, an organization that is working for the adivasis in Gudalur. The team at Just Change helped conduct studies and gauged the feasibility of developing an organic coffee brand as well as setting up a coffee value chain that directly reaches the consumers in urban markets.

 

 

A report of the study was presented to the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam, who agreed to to procure, process and sell the coffee from Gudalur under a new brand. And that is how the ‘Coffee Gatherer’ was born.

 

Who does it benefit?

The Coffee Gatherer has a rather unique slogan – “A sip of this coffee is a sip for social change.” The adivasi community around Gudalur are the primary beneficiaries of this initiative. They collectively own a majority stake in the company and receive dividends from the profit it makes. This stems from Just Change’s firm belief of moving away from ‘private ownership capital’ to ‘participative capital’, that takes into account the contribution of the producer and the consumer, in addition to that of the investor.

By setting up an organization that is run by the adivasis, Just Change is moving beyond fair trade and fair prices. This also allows the average coffee consumer like us, to become part of that change.

And all it takes is a sip of their delicious, organic coffee.