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Coffee grown by tribals to take place in premium stores of Paris

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(G.N.S) Dt. 18

Chikkamangaluru

Under the shadow of the large planters of Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru districts, who dominate the coffee sector in the State, are the Soliga tribals eking out a living on the bean amid the forests of BR Hills.

Can this “tribal coffee” translate into a premium that could see coffee beans make their way from the hamlets of Biligiriranga Hills to the high-end coffee stores of London and Paris? That is the hope with which the Coffee Board and the Social Welfare Department have started a Rs. 2.05- crore project for branding of the beans grown by the Soliga tribals.

What perhaps differentiates the coffee in the tribal belt from its counterparts elsewhere is the stories behind the beans — stories of organic farming and tribal welfare.

Take, for instance, Sanne Rangegowda. His tryst with coffee started nearly three decades ago, as a labourer in a large coffee plantation close to his home at the Muttugadagadde tribal hamlet. “If the planters could take up coffee cultivation, why not us? With the help of NGOs, we started growing coffee that does not have pesticides or fertilisers. This is coffee grown amid tigers and elephants,” he said.

While more than 70 Soligas have taken up coffee plantation in his hamlet, in Chamrajanagar district itself around 650 Soligas may be cultivating the bean. This organic and natural way of cultivation comes with a price. If planters elsewhere get upwards of 800 kg an acre, the tribal farmers can get just 100 to 120 kg.

Moreover, bringing these beans to the market is another struggle. Every season, after harvesting coffee in his 5.5-acre plantation at Keredimba, Made Gowda, his family and the labourers engaged have to lug over 40 kg on their heads, through nearly 14 km of undulating forest pathways before they reach a main road.

What could change their fortunes is labelling this coffee and bringing it out as a brand that sells at a premium. The model has worked for the tribals of Araku valley, where the turnover from tribal coffee has risen threefold, to more than Rs. 350 crore, after branding unleashed its exports.

The tribals at BR Hills will be given training in better production practices and processing while the Coffee Board will facilitate collective marketing and certification of the coffee for local and international markets, says the MoU announced at the India International Coffee Festival, which started in the city on Wednesday.

“Araku tribal coffee is now sold in premium stores in Paris. For the first time, the Coffee Board has signed an MoU with the Social Welfare Department to replicate this for BR Hills,” said Srivatsa Krishna, chief executive officer, Coffee Board.

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