For years, the indigenous communities of the Araku Valley in India have got by in the only way they knew how – toiling on the land and cultivating just enough to make ends meet; in some cases, not even that.
Many were exploited by local money lenders and – politically, socially and economically excluded – the situation looked somewhat desperate in terms of the locals being able to consolidate any sort of social mobility or sustainable future. In a situation like this, people could only live day by day. Saving for the future was out of the question.
However, in 2001, Naandi – a charity which strives towards securing better health, education and overall livelihoods for poor and underprivileged people living in the Andhra Pradesh region of India – got involved in the area and turned this state of affairs completely on its head.
Gemmela Chinnarao's story
A typical farmer from the village of Besupuram in the Ananthagiri mandal, Gemmela Chinnarao had been farming for years.
In the early 1980s, he worked in the fields of local money lenders, producing just enough to feed himself and get by. However, tangible profits and the concept of progression were completely unheard of – as was the case with all too many farmers at the time working in similar circumstances.
With the Coffee Board of India having taken over promotion of the crop, he had two acres of land in which he planted millets and ragi. When the harvest came around, he would sell his produce to local traders for extremely low prices. It was certainly not enough to safeguard any sort of future.
However, once Naandi began operations in the area, Gemmela Chinnarao not only got on-board with the programme, but actively encouraged others to sign up. Come the 2005/06 harvest, he was selling green coffee for Rs 120 per kg, compared to Rs 10-15 – the latter the pitiable price afforded to him by selfish local traders.
"Year after year our farmers began getting a better and a fair price, unlike others who were selling their coffee to the local traders," he said.
From then on, he continued to urge other farmers to turn away from these traders and entrust Naandi with their produce. Doing so himself, Gemmela Chinnarao has not only been able to safeguard a sustainable future for him and his family, but he has also been able to save money for his children's education.
Dalapathi Joyyo's story
Like Gemmela Chinnarao, Dalapathi Joyyo is a farmer from the Araku Valley with a large family to support – namely a wife, three daughters and one son. He has been a farmer since 1998 and owns 1.4 acres of land, on which he is able to cultivate produce to support himself and his family.
He is also another advocate for Naandi's work in the Araku Valley.
With the organisation having set up the Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (SAMTFMACS), it needed the support of the indigenous locals in order for more farmers to trust the new system and consider it the only way forward.
After all, tradition and heritage are extremely important in these rural communities, which can make it harder to shake up the system.
Nevertheless, Dalapathi Joyyo was indeed one of the many – alongside Gemmela Chinnarao – who recognised that the cooperative presented the people of the Araku Valley with a sustainable future. He too trained and signed up with the project's programmes.
As a result of his active involvement in getting farmers enrolled with the scheme, he was unanimously elected a member of the Gummaguda area with 560 farmers in Dumbriguda – one of the seven mandals, alongside Araku, Hukumpeta, Anathagiri, Paderu, Pedhabaylu and Munchinpet.
Having personally motivated almost 200 farmers to join the cooperative, he commented: "I have benefited from the SAMTFMACS and I want each and every farmer to avail the fruit of being [in the cooperative]. Their income levels should increase only through quality coffee production."
He added that he would like to see the exploitative middlemen in the area being well and truly eradicated from the trade chain, as farmers in the region move forward towards their sustainable future.