Coffee was introduced to the Paderu Agency area some five decades ago. However, it has become a sustainable economic activity only since a few years after the tribal farmers have taken up organic cultivation of coffee.
Earlier, the ignorant tribals would collect coffee berries and sell them to traders who in turn would sell it for handsome profits. Later, the government turned its focus on the crop and took the initiative to encourage tribals to turn coffee cultivators. The government provided poor tribal farmers with one acre size holdings of semi-waste land that was converted to cultivate coffee.
Even in this situation, the tribals did not gain much. They were led into a debt trap by the traders who would advance amounts to the tribal farmers before the crop season started with the understanding that the crop would be sold to them. Not only would the traders decide on the price of the crop but also pay at their convenience.
The situation changed only after the tribal farmers formed the Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (SAMTFMACS) with the active support of Naandi Foundation and AASSAV a voluntary organisation set up and run by tribals, Chief Sustainability Officer of Naandi Foundation David Hogg recalled. The tribal collective decided to launch organic coffee cultivation.
Today, the situation is totally different, the entire system is well organised with members of the community controlling the entire process. The tribal collective runs a nursery which provides the coffee seedlings to farmers, it helps in cultivation with timely advice, supplies neem cake and other organic fertilisers. Employees of the collective weigh and collect the berries from the doorstep of the tribal farmer. This is then sent to its own coffee pulper for processing, SAMTFMACS president Garam Kumbo said. Today the packed coffee powder is sold in big cities and abroad. It is available in Paris too, Mr Hogg said.
The collective has also taken up agro-forestry in the degraded lands. This not helps green the hills but also in carbon sequestration and as a result earn carbon credits, he added. This has ensured that the tribal farmer today earns on an average Rs 6,250 per acre.
The collective is making efforts to improve the productivity and take the average income per acre to Rs 31,250, the president of the tribal collective said. The economic stability has changed the socio-economic position of the tribal farmer in the Agency area, Mr Hogg explained.