Since its inception in 2007 thanks to the Naandi Foundation, the Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (SAMTFMACS) has completely transformed coffee operations in the Araku Valley region in the south-east of India. But what is it and what exactly has it achieved?
The SAMTFMACS is a cooperative of coffee farmers in the Araku Valley region. It operates across seven mandals in the area – Araku, Hukumpeta, Dumbriguda, Anathagiri, Paderu, Pedhabaylu and Munchinpet – covering 13,560 of land used for growing coffee crops.
It is registered under the APMACS (Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies) Act 1995. Elections for leading members take place once a year, with 21 directors overseeing its operations (three for each mandal). There are then committees within each of the seven areas themselves. All of these branch leaders are democratically elected by the farmers in each mandal and from those, the 21-strong board of directors is put together. A president and vice-president is then chosen from these 21 individuals.
It currently boasts around 11,000 members from almost 600 different villages, consolidated into what is a bonafide democratic institution, with all of the structure and organisation that would be expected of a similar institution in a more developed area of the world.
Before the Naandi Foundation's intervention and the formation of the cooperative, the indigenous people involved in coffee farming and trading in the area were struggling due to a lack of support, education, resources and industry know-how – all issues which the foundation has aimed to address, resolve and banish moving forward.
It has done this by providing technical support and training to the members – not only in farming practices and practical skills, but also in the administrative procedures that are just as much a part of trading as the crop cultivation itself. For example, members have been taught how to keep track of their accounts and how to manage personnel involved in their own particular operations.
A key component of the SAMTFMACS has been the implementation of centralising the coffee-processing. By bringing all of the cherries to the same place for this, it enables those overseeing the operation to ensure that all of the coffee coming from the region is of a consistent and uniformly high standard.
One particular issue which has formed a pillarstone of the cooperative is collaboration and equality – and this has come hand in hand with a great emphasis placed on parity between genders. In other words, both men and women have been able to ascend to leadership roles. Women receive the same amount of money for the work they do as their male counterparts, while joint bank accounts are actively encouraged.
This represents a kind of social mobility that was almost unheard of before such an institution as the cooperative existed. It has given the indigenous communities of the Araku Valley a purpose and tangible goal, creating something of which they can be proud to be a part.
As a result, thousands of coffee farmers in the Araku Valley have seen their lives transformed. The farmers are enjoying a higher price for their coffee that is as much as three to four times what they would have been receiving before. This has been made possible by the expertise bestowed upon them within the cooperative, so that they are no longer exploited by local money lenders and manipulative middle men.
What's more, the farmers even receive a bonus based on the cooperative's profits, which they never would have received before.
Elsewhere, prices in the region have risen as traders have had to adjust according to the competition the SAMTFMACS now presents, benefiting not only cooperative members, but also all non-member coffee farmers in the area.
Thanks to the organisation's help, the SAMTFMACS has now achieved Fairtrade certification from FLO-CERT which is headquartered in Bonn, Germany, while nearly of the farmers have seen their operations accredited as organic – or in the process of becoming so – by IMO India in Bangalore. It is also the only coffee organisation producing Arabica in the whole of India that is Fairtrade and the only organic one in the country.