India Gems Of Araku
The Araku valley lies in the picturesque Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, 90 km north-west of Vishakhapatnam. The entire region is inhabited by indigenous tribes who are some of the earliest residents of the Indian peninsula. Their culture is replete with unique folklore and traditions.
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Coffee was introduced in the Araku region in 1920 by British revenue officers who recognized the potential of the sloped hills in the area. After independence, around the 1960s, the Indian Coffee Board and the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department initiated efforts towards organized coffee cultivation and production in the area. The movement to grow coffee began in the plantations owned by the Forest Department and later spread to individual tribal farmers (the majority of whom were landless and were given land on lease by the government).
Yet the coffee cultivation in the region has not been very successful, for various reasons. Slash and burn cultivation tactics destroyed forests and reduced the land to semi-wasteland. Though the region is suitable for coffee cultivation, it suffered from a lack of traditional knowledge about growing coffee and support for the novice coffee farmers. Under these circumstances, most of the farmers failed to achieve decent yields. Some even cut down shade trees to sell as timber, leaving the coffee trees unhelpfully exposed. The farmers also lacked proper equipment to process the coffee to its full potential.
When Naandi Foundation began its operations in Araku Valley in 2001, it was clear that support was required in the areas of livelihoods and education. Hence Naandi’s first programme focused on improving incomes of small and marginal indigenous farmers growing coffee and raising the quality of education in government primary schools attended by their children.
Realizing the magnitude of the project and keeping its sustainability in mind, Naandi organised the farmers into a cooperative. In 2007, SAMTFMACS was formed as an entity that would eventually allow the farmers to take full control of crop production, harvest, processing, and sale. The members of SAMTFMACS are farmers with small landholdings. On an average each farmer owns around 1 acre (0.40 ha) of land.
Naandi’s activities have encompassed a wide scope: soil inoculation to restore organic nutrients, preservation and provision of shade trees, trainings in organic and biodynamic farming techniques, installation of a state-of-the-art processing unit, and – critically – organization of the farmers into a cooperative. With the help of these efforts, the SAMTFMACS cooperative has acquired fair trade certification (from FLO-CERT, headquartered in Bonn) and nearly all of its farmers are certified as organic or in-conversion to organic by IMO, Bangalore.
Seven Mandals of Araku Valley Region consisting of Araku, Hukumpeta, Dumbriguda, Anathagiri, Paderu, Pedhabaylu and Munchinpet reaching out to 11,048 farmers in 589 villages covering a coffee growing area of 13,560 acres.