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Drink This Scientist’s Coffee, And You Can Help Farmers, Save Wildlife & Water!

Drink This Scientist’s Coffee, And You Can Help Farmers, Save Wildlife & Water!

It was for her PhD research on the political ecology of markets for biodiversity conservation that first brought Arshiya Bose to coffee farming regions in the Western Ghats.

Coffee is undoubtedly one of the world’s widely consumed beverages. For most folks, a day doesn’t can’t begin without their first cuppa.

But most of us have no idea about the cost at which we get our daily dose of coffee—that of the environment as well as the coffee producers.

It is understandable that the rising demand for coffee has cleared away vast tracts of forests across the world. But how does the exploitation of producers spell out?

By producers, we don’t imply the global coffee enterprises or chains, but the grassroots, i.e., the farmers, who despite supplying the world with its caffeinated fix, often lead extremely impoverished lives.

The market and production system is structured in ways that ensure farmers remain at the bottom of the value chain, often exploited and undermined through inequitable means of trade culture. Add that to the incessant amount of chemicals pumped into the soil and water—we have a major problem that necessitates serious addressing.

It was for her PhD research on the political ecology of markets for biodiversity conservation that first brought Arshiya Bose to coffee farming regions in the Western Ghats.

Sannarangegowda and Arshiya work directly with coffee producers in BR Hills, Kodagu and Wayanad. Credits: Vivek Muthuramalingam.

Here, she spent quite some time working directly with local farmers and producers across Kodagu, Biligirirangana Hills, and Wayanad. It opened her eyes to the grim conditions of growers, in addition to the gradual ecological shift in the way coffee was being grown in India.

“Because these were small-scale farmers, pawns of the trade denied them access to fair and transparent markets as well as the opportunities enjoyed by larger enterprises. The shaded way of growing coffee that was practiced across India has slowly been paving the way for sunlit plantations. With that, not only vast areas of forests were being cleared, but also endemic wildlife species. In fact, the group of farmers that I worked with told me about putting my knowledge and understanding of the situation to some better use,” says Arshiya to The Better India.

And thus, Black Baza Coffee came into being. The company’s motto centered upon fostering a coffee-growing and drinking culture accountable to all stakeholders—producers as well as the ecosystem.

Named after the rare prey bird species, Black Baza has been working with a community of about 400 producers with small land holdings. Their vision: to create a local, participatory and meaningful movement for coffee.

Black Baza Coffee currently works with 400 smallholder coffee producers. Courtesy: Arshiya Bose.

“When you think about it, almost all types of agricultural systems across the globe stand upon an uneven power structure, where the producers are exploited, and the environment bears the maximum brunt. But the coffee scenario in India is not all about gloom and doom. There is still space for optimism and scope for an agroforestry paradigm that values nature and coffee growers while paving the way for environmentally-conscious consumer culture,” explains Arshiya.

The company tries to connect these small landholding farmers directly with the consumers, who are aware of the struggles that the growers have gone through, to bring us coffee through effective storytelling means.

If you wish to purchase The Black Baza’s diverse range of coffee brews, you can buy them from The Better India Shop here.

This interconnected consumer-producer sphere rules out the need for middlemen or exploitative practices while giving way to fair, equitable and community-supported marketplace.

Instead of solely being a trading organisation, Black Baza projects itself as one that enables communities, with conserving the environment and the endemic wildlife being their frontrunner goals.

But, how is a balance between production and conservation maintained?

There is careful evaluation of impact of this project on livelihoods and farm management of coffee producers. Credits: Vivek Muthuramalingam.

“Even in the shaded plantation system, there has been a shift to more exotic species like the silver oak. We are trying to stick with the endemic flora, which in turn, has always harboured the local wildlife species while retaining the groundwater table efficiently. These farmers have been ensuring that none of the biodiversity is compromised through their practices,” Arshiya explains.

Quite interestingly, Black Baza’s range of coffee fashions names that will immediately draw your attention: The Whistling Schoolboy, The Ficus, The Otter and the Luna, to name a few.

“All of these have a story to tell—more like an ode to the local endangered wildlife and the environment. For instance, the Whistling Schoolboy is named after the mellifluous Malabar Whistling Thrush, while the Ficus is a keystone species in any landscape. Having these trees across coffee plantations for shade, gives the coffee a unique flavour that you won’t find elsewhere. The Otter coffee sheds light to the restored riverine vegetation by the Kaveri River through our efforts, where we now spot otters nurturing their young. And the Luna coffee takes after the magnificent Luna moth, whose presence is a visible indicator of good ecological health and the fact that the region is sans any chemical penetration,” shares Arshiya.

Arshiya explains that Black Baza tries to bring two ends of a spectrum under a single umbrella—empowering small farmers to make good ecological solutions, while educating consumers towards consciously shifting to a producer and environment-friendly consumption culture.

Black Baza Coffee helped facilitate the formation of a farmer producer organisation such that all procurement now happens by producers for producers. Credits: Vivek Muthuramalingam.

“Nature plays a prime role in every cup of coffee that reaches us. And to maintain that ecological balance, it is imperative that we, as consumers, consciously support farmers who grow coffee that doesn’t leave behind any damaging impact,” adds Arshiya.

The Black Baza Coffee hopes to scale up the production of its environment and farmer-friendly coffee not just across India but the world over.

“We aspire to make this happen across the world eventually, with our vision resting over reconstructing marketplaces that are accessible to every type of farmer; where coffee, as a commodity, is re-embedded in people, place, and ecology,” Arshiya concludes.

If you wish to purchase The Black Baza’s diverse range of coffee brews, you can buy them from The Better India Shop here.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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