A day with the adivasis behind Araku Valley Coffee

This land is my land Farmers work in fields that are cultivated in November and December after the paddy crop in Araku Valley, Visakhapatnam district  

Under the towering canopy of silver oaks at a tribal village nestled in the Eastern Ghats of Araku Valley, a coffee revolution is brewing. On a foggy winter morning, a group of adivasis head from Girliguda village to pluck coffee cherries from plantations spread over a hilly terrain nearby.

From the winding ghats of Araku (2,985 feet above sea level), this coffee produced by the adivasis will make its way to a Parisian café. This year, it won global recognition when Araku Valley Coffee bagged the gold medal for the best coffee pod in the Prix Epicures OR 2018 Award in Paris.

Sixty-year-old G Padma has a broad smile on her face, as she inspects the colour of the cherries. “These crimson-red ones are of Grade-1 category and will fetch us the best rate,” Padma says as she gets busy harvesting with the others. They trek over two kilometres every day to check the coffee bushes under the shade of the silver oak, mulberry, custard apple, sapota, and timber trees. At the end of the day’s work, the adivasis will trek back to their village and the segregation of Grade-1 and Grade-2 category cherries (the not-so-red ones) will begin.

A day with the adivasis behind Araku Valley Coffee

From plantations spread around the seven mandals of Araku, the coffee cherries travel through dusty, meandering roads to the processing unit of Naandi Foundation before they go offshore. Set over eight acres of land, the foundation’s processing unit is gearing up to receive the season’s first big batch of harvest. “A procurement of six tonnes of cherries was brought here last week. These will be pulped, fermented and dried till it is ready for roasting and grounding in Paris,” says Vinod Hegde, resident coffee expert of Naandi Foundation in Araku. Coffee in this region is grown under shade, combining quality Arabica flavour.

The initiative to take the region’s coffee to global consumers started in 2008, with the establishment of the foundation’s Araku Originals, a social enterprise. Behind Araku Originals is a dedicated team of experts and 10,500 adivasi farmers from seven mandals of Araku, who have formed a cooperative society of certified organic coffee growers.

Adivasis are always conscious that they belong to the earth and not vice versa. We understood that they cherished nothing greater than regaining the forest that they had lost over the years. This helped us mobilise them, in Araku, into the world’s largest organic coffee co-operative,” says Manoj Kumar, CEO of Naandi. The cooperative society brought a big change in the lives of farmers. “Prior to 2007-08, I used to sell coffee for ₹42 per kilogram. Today, it is ₹275 per kilogram. Now there is a system in place and we trust the process,” says K Kondalarao, president of the society.

A day with the adivasis behind Araku Valley Coffee

’Tis the season

As the peak season for coffee harvesting sets in, work picks up pace. A group of women spread coffee cherries on shade nets to dry. But even before the cherries are brought to the unit, the tracking mechanism begins. Every farmer has a code, which distinguishes that farm’s produce with respect to factors like type of soil, location and climate. At the unit, a refractometre determines ripeness of the fruit. After surveying and categorisation, cherries go through an elaborate washed method of processing before being set out for drying. Dried beans are stored in a godown for 40-60 days. “ The moisture level has to be perfect: between 10% and 11 %. A little more or less will ruin the quality,” explains Vinod. From here, the green coffee beans travel all the way to Paris. It is there that the coffee is packaged.

Agricultural scientist David Hogg also works with the farmers, giving them technical expertise for sustainable practices.

A day with the adivasis behind Araku Valley Coffee
Home and abroad

In March 2009, this coffee received its first taste of global recognition at the international coffee tasting event, ‘Gems of Araku’, by Naandi. “For the farmers to really benefit, we had to tap into the markets abroad that paid more,” adds Manoj. Adapted from the Cup of Excellence and Specialty Coffee Association of America’s cupping protocols, international experts acknowledged its high quality. Since then, every year, an international jury of coffee cuppers participate in the Gems of Araku event. “We are selling in 30 locations in Paris and aim to expand to 100. Eventually, we also want to tap the New York and Tokyo markets,” says Manoj.

From this December, Araku coffee will, for the first time, be available to Indian customers. “Our roasting facility in Hyderabad will be operational from mid December. After that, Araku Coffee will be available in India through the e-commerce route,” confirms Manoj.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 11:08:26 AM |

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