Coffee is predominantly grown in developing countries situated between the tropics, as they afford the most favourable climates and topography to produce some of the best crop in the world.
However, due to social, economic and political problems, many of the people living in these areas are not afforded the luxuries, security and support that many people in developing countries perhaps take for granted.
The indigenous peoples living the Araku Valley in south-east India are an example of how a lack of knowledge and support has seen them struggle over the years – but also of how cooperation and intervention from external agents can drastically overhaul operations and consolidate thriving, self-sustained industry and, quite simply, transform lives.
Where did the Araku coffee industry come from?
After coffee was introduced to the Araku Valley region in 1920 by British revenue officers who recognised the potential of the area for production, the country has made efforts to consolidate the industry into one that could drive the economy.
After independence in the 1960s and help by the Indian Coffee Board and the Andrha Pradesh Forest Department to organise cultivation and production in the area, the Integrated Tribal Development Agencies took over promotion and management of the industry from the Coffee Board in 1995.
But despite this, more help was needed to take on the enormous project that was educating the Araku people about best practices, ideal farming methods, meticulous harvesting and processing techniques, how to book-keep and manage business, and about the coffee industry in general.
Cue the arrival of the Naandi Foundation in 2001.
What is the Naandi Foundation?
In its own words, the Naandi Foundation is a "charity working towards better health, basic education and sustainable livelihoods for the deprived poor and underprivileged people of Andhra Pradesh".
It began its operations in the Araku Valley in 2001, recognising that education and supporting the livelihoods of locals were key areas that needed to be focused on. For this reason, its very first project aimed to boost the incomes of small and marginal farmers in the area who perhaps were not making enough to sustain themselves for reasons of poor yields, exploitation or a chronic lack of resources – both education and tools.
The organisation also targeted the improvement of education so that the newer generations would not suffer from a lack of knowledge like their parents and grandparents, and provided technical assistance to hundreds of farmers, with the help of a local NGO.
However, it was one particular development that it would be a gross understatement to say has completely transformed the coffee industry in the Araku Valley – and thereby the livelihoods of thousands of indigenous people living and working in the region.
What is the SAMTFMACS?
In 2007, the Naandi Foundation organised the farmers into a cooperative called the Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society – the SAMTFMACS – which has brought together over 11,000 farmers across just under 600 villages into what is now a structured and democratic institution.
It covers seven mandals of the Araku Valley – namely, Araku, Hukumpeta, Dumbriguda, Anathagiri, Paderu, Pedhabaylu and Munchinpet – and covers 13,560 acres of coffee-growing land.
The idea behind doing this was with a view to eventually enabling the farmers to take full control of coffee farming, cultivation, processing and trading in the area, with a central processing unit.
People talk about the power of the masses, of safety in numbers, and a cooperative such as this is a prime example of how consolidating people power – with the right support – can make such an enormous difference. On average, each farmer belonging to the cooperative only owns around one acre of land.
The project has not only transformed the livelihoods of its constituent members, but it is also safeguarding the natural resources on which coffee farmers rely so heavily. After all, the coffee trading chain all begins with a plant and the blessings of mother nature.
To this end, the Naandi Foundation has overseen further schemes to help to restore organic nutrients to the soil, provide and maintain shade trees (for producing shade-grown coffee) and train farmers in how to go about their business in a way that is friendly in terms of both organic practices and preserving biodiversity, amongst other things.