Our community of coffee growers

The global coffee community faces many challenges in the next decade including the continuing economic crises, volatility in coffee prices, increased production costs, impacts of changing climate (disturbed rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures) and poverty in coffee communities.

While coffee markets have certainly grown to be more valuable, the story for coffee farmers is somewhat different. Some reports say that the share of the retail value of coffee retained by producers has diminished over the decades - from 20% of the retail price of coffee sold in a shop in the 1970s to historic lows of 2-6% in 1994-2004.

In 2017, our research shows that for one the of world’s leading specialty coffee brands, the share value of growers was around 2.8% of the retail value.

At Black Baza Coffee, our price to growers constitutes 17.06% of our average retail price. We build in a set of incentives, quality improvement, financial and farm management programmes that build capacities of coffee producers to be resilient to changes and empowered to act in global markets.

In the Indian context this is especially important because 98% of producers in India grow coffee on less than 10 acres. Small growers often face greater livelihood risks from improper market access, lack of reliable buyers and access to financial benefits and savings schemes. Simply put, a farmer with half an acre of land has fewer options.

Our community consists of 396 coffee growers (as of 2018).

4 of our growers and the earliest adopters our biodiversity-friendly farming practices (circa 2013) manage more organised plantations in Kodagu, Karnataka. These farms use chemical fertiliser (1.16 kilos of NPK fertiliser per plant per year). Decades of knowledge on coffee cultivation inspire us to draw insights for those growers who have come on board more recently.

392 of our partner producers grow coffee in the BR Hills region of Karnataka. Coffee grown here is devoid of any chemical fertiliser or pesticide. We are in transition for an organic certification. This region is also where we focus our grassroots involvement.

Our work in the BR Hills is about rewriting the market for coffee whilst staying truly accountable to the producers’ and their families as well as the landscape and its ecology. A recurring theme in our discussions is that of futures.

Strengthening community resilience is a conversation about peoples’ vision for their future - will they grow coffee, why, how, where and for whom?

What this means - off paper and on ground:
I. Establishing the region’s first producer organisation

We have just created the Biligiri Soligara Coffee Growers Society. We are supporting this process through providing the resources needed to run a 600+ member organisation.

II. Building capacities to engage with markets on producers’ own terms

From finance, accounting to market awareness and price negotiations, we work alongside various experts to build producers’ capacities to engage in markets in ways that feel fair, transparent and democratic.

III. Long-term training for improved coffee quality

Since coffee is not a traditional crop in this region, we are co-devising a long-term plan for quality improvement both pre and post-harvest. This includes connecting with experts and hands-on training throughout the year.

IV. Understanding and adapting to a farmer-friendly way

Many existing norms for social and economic well-being derive from global certifications. In contrast, we are facilitating conversations around farmer-friendly coffee markets that seek to address local needs.

V. Fair prices and financial inclusivity

Our prices are consistently between 15-25% over the declared market price at the time of purchase. In 2018, our price resulted in being 46% higher than the local and most easily accessible market rate. Our purchase is transparent and inclusive - coffee is weighed in front of the producer and procurement is driven by the farmer producer organisation (i.e. growers collect coffee from each other). A household and economic survey has revealed hardships around unavailability of safe loans, severe debt and lack of savings products. We are in the process of evaluating relevant microfinance and savings mechanisms.