Our work in the Araku region, Eastern Ghats of India was the first integrated development programme of the Foundation, and it began way back in 2000. From setting up community schools, Naandi expanded its work with the communities to many causes and now impacts 100,000 adivasi lives.
For a region characterised by low women’s literacy rates, high infant and maternal mortality and low agricultural productivity, Naandi’s efforts from the beginning were to build on the strengths of the adivasi community. Traditionally, adivasis embody the values of caring and sharing for the community and the forests. This helped in building hundreds of community schools and create a farmers’ cooperative.
A ‘household approach’ to development was followed in every sphere of activity. Even the adivasi farmers’ cooperative looked at things from a holistic, family centric point of view rather than just farming and livelihoods.
The farmers grew arabica coffee organically. This included using bio- fertilisers, bio-pesticides and the practice of encouraging natural predators such as spiders to get rid of pests. They harvested and processed this coffee in Araku and also obtained international organic and fair-trade certification which enabled exports. But this was not all. They grew food crops as well to provide a nutritionally rich food basket for the family, and it included fruits such as papaya, mango, mud apples (chikoo) and oranges.
The cooperative also ploughed back the premiums they received from the export of Fairtrade coffee into village development projects such as those for safe drinking water, ambulances and maternal healthcare.
The continued hard work of the farmers of Araku ensured many of them earnings of over Rs 3,50,000 per annum from the export of processed coffee.
This success resulted in more farmers joining the cooperative, including the next generation of youth. For the first time, growing organic coffee and doing agriculture became accepted as a viable livelihood option.
The large-scale replication of the Araku model into the neighboring mandals caught the attention of Global Livelihoods Fund, an innovative carbon offset fund. It agreed to give grant support to the adivasi communities for diversifying the crop portfolio from coffee, vegetables and black pepper to as many as 19 varieties of fruit trees per acre.
With the successful planting of two million fruit trees by the end of 2012 the region is being transformed into a ‘functional forest’ that enhances the much needed biodiversity for the region. Of course, the new challenge will be for the social enterprise Araku Originals Limited (it manages the marketing of the organic coffee the farmers grow), to take up fruit processing and marketing and make this effort as much a success as it has made of the Araku coffee, which is now recognised as a global gourmet product.
With the project becoming a gateway for adivasi communities to come out of chronic poverty and hunger, there is now a demand to replicate this holistic ‘household development’ model in more parts of India as well as in Mozambique and South Africa for the small farmers there.
Boi Ravi Kumar, a Kondadora adivasi coffee farmer, passed away in February 2012 leaving behind a half- constructed home, a distraught wife and six young children (aged 5 to 19 years). Kalyan, his college-going elder son, has dropped out to help his mother, Sundaramma, run the household and tend their coffee plantations. “We had finally got some money with which we began making our own home. In his absence I will complete what we started,” Sundaramma says.
What gives her the faith that she can, is the coffee they are growing. Every day Sundaramma walks three hours to her farm to tend to the coffee shrubs and make sure every organic farming protocol is followed for their cultivation. Because it is these plants that helped them earn Rs 80,000 plus in 2011-12. A windfall when compared to the days before they grew coffee (four years ago), when they earned just Rs 3000 a year.
Membership in the coffee farmers’ cooperative for Sundaramma in 2009, the improvement in the coffee quality and growth of the cooperative year on year has seen a fairy tale rise in the family’s income from coffee.
2008-09: Rs 1,410
2009-10: Rs 13,616
2010-11: Rs 23,166
2011-12: Rs 82,450
2016-17: Rs 86,050
Now, in the wake of Ravi’s death, Sundaramma is saving Rs 7000 a year as life insurance for her family in case something happens to her. She’s invested in gold earrings for the first time in her life and also bought for the family a cow.
Distraught though she was at Ravi’s death, helpless she wasn’t, “I think being a member of this cooperative gave me a lot of confidence and security to continue. I know the work and I know now that coffee cares for you if you care for it well.”
This year Sundaramma will be the leader of a Women’s Coffee Group. When asked how she would like to name the group, she replied:
“I will call it the Jhansi Group.”
What has made the Araku model successful and replicable is that it is not an exclusive agriculture or livelihood intervention. It is the sum total of an effort that integrates the needs of a family – men, women, children and youth.
The first was a concerted effort to ensure all girls in the Araku region are in school. This was followed by a structured programme to give supplementary education to the girls to help them realise their fullest potential as students. Simultaneously a safe motherhood programme implemented with the help of a healthcare non-profit saw a steep reduction in the maternal mortality rates in the region.
And while the coffee programme helped farmers through the Cooperative, the youth of these hills have been united through a fillip to sport in the shape of volleyball promotion and matches. The 397 youth teams so created has helped youth congregate and engage in the larger development agenda via their favourite sport – volleyball.
A decade of integrated work with men, women, youth, boys and girls have ensured the adivasi communities are now charting a new model of development. We call it the Araku way, a way out of poverty, and the way for good.