India’s sustainable growth

India, which is the sixth largest producer of coffee in the world, has something of a natural advantage in the sustainability stakes. All of India’s coffee is cultivated under shade. This method encourages biodiversity through the use of other plant types to provide the shade, and is widely recognised as the most environmentally sustainable method of coffee production. India’s coffee producers are well integrated with their environment, which is just as well as about 85 per cent of the country’s coffee output comes from the Western Ghats mountain range in the country’s south, an area that is recognised by the United Nations Environment, Science and Cutural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the world’s most significant biodiversity hotspots. Since 1996, many of the major global sustainability certification programs, such as Utz Certified, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and Organic have been adopted by the larger operators within the Indian coffee industry. These programs, which are based on voluntary sustainability standards, include dimensions of environmental sustainability with a focus on natural resource conservation and resource use efficiency. To date, the adoption of sustainability programs in India has largely been driven by leading exporters who form groups of growers, mainly large farms, and build growers’ capacities to achieve compliance. Under this structure, the exporter is the certificate holder. Fairtrade has also been supporting producer organisations in the state of Kerala to produce Fairtrade certified coffee (and also Fairtrade certified organic coffee). Consequently, by 2015, about 15 per cent of India’s coffee output was certified under at least one sustainability scheme and it is expected that, given that demand for certified coffee continues to grow, so too will the production of sustainability certified coffee in India. The interest in offering differentiated coffees with traceability has increased in the past few years, with some large farms having been able to position themselves as producers of single estate coffee. However, the Coffee Board of India (CBI) has identified that small growers – defined as those owning farms of less than 10 hectares – have been excluded from this trend primarily due to the costs of compliance with these schemes and the lack of commercially active grower collectives in India. From the early 2000s, the CBI has been supporting the establishment of small growers’ collectives and the establishment of group-owned infrastructure for farming, coffee washing and value addition. The CBI’s extension network has been providing technical and financial assistance to the collectives and their members to improve product quality and productivity. Due to these efforts, many such collectives have provided small growers an opportunity to utilise improved machinery and participate in collective marketing. In addition to this, the CBI has also been supporting the sustainability certification of small growers’ collectives by conducting capacity building programs and providing financial assistance to meet the costs of third-party audits. The CBI has also been providing technical and financial assistance for the adoption of pollution abatement technologies and water conservation structures that have favourable environmental benefits. However, it was seen that during the last few years, the participation of growers’ collectives in these programs was declining due to factors such as low awareness regarding emerging technologies and market-based instruments. In recognition of the growing demand for certified coffee and the opportunities this presented for Indian coffee producers, the CBI partnered with the Indian Institute of Plantation Management Bangalore (IIPM) to implement a small grant project to promote environmental sustainability of coffee farms owned by small growers who are members of collectives. This project, which was implemented from 2014 to 2016, had three primary components. These were to support the adoption of ecological pulping units that reduce water consumption for coffee washing, support the sustainability certification of small growers’ collectives, and promote the utilisation of coffee pulp wastes to produce enriched compost, which could then be used in the members’ coffee farms. The CBI’s Research Chair at IIPM, Dr Ashwini Kumar, says that the project was a test case to explore the benefits of collectives and certification. “The basic strategy of the project was to demonstrate the feasibility of growers’ collectives contributing to water conservation, pollution abatement and lower emissions due to reduced utilisation of fossil fuels to operate engines for coffee washing, and collectively participating to achieve compliance with sustainability standards, get certified and undertake collective marketing,” Kumar says. The project commenced with training programs to create awareness among growers’ collectives about the proposed initiative, environmental sustainability, ecological washing, sustainability certification and markets for sustainability certified coffee and enriched compost. “After an initial screening process, four collectives that indicated their commitment – including financial – to the project objectives were supported to procure ecological washing units with the collectives contributing up to two-thirds of the capital investment,” Kumar tells Global Coffee Report. “The CBI in turn provided technical assistance, such as in deciding the capacity of the washing units, the commercial mechanisms to operate the units, pricing for members and non-members, and financial assistance to meet about one-quarter of the investments. The Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI) monitored the performance of the washing units, while the local Pollution Control Board was involved in site selection and monitoring compliance with applicable environmental regulations.” As a result of this process, four ecological washing units were adopted by four collectives that had 180 grower members producing coffee on about 520 hectares. The other component of the program was preparing the collectives for certification. While the four collectives were trained in standards relating to the four certifications (Utz, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Organic), the groups jointly decided upon which certification programs they would apply for. The ‘collective of collectives’ was also supported to obtain legal recognition, and the consortium was to be called ‘Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium’. An internal control system was developed by identifying group representatives and compliance with the standards of Utz certification was achieved. “A third-party audit led to the consortium obtaining multigroup, multisite certification, and this marked a fresh beginning in the sustainability certification movement in the country’s coffee sector,” Kumar says. Once they had achieved certification, the groups developed mechanisms for coffee procurement and sale (adhering to traceability requirements), and forged linkages with leading exporters to collectively sell the certified coffee without violating the chain of custody. Samples of green bean quality were assessed, and a roadmap drawn out for a continuous quality improvement program. Further to this, training programs were conducted by scientists of CCRI to train the groups’ representatives in production of enriched compost by using coffee pulp waste. “The achievements of the project are noteworthy,” Kumar says. “Pollution of about 17 million litres of fresh water has been avoided through the use of the washing units over two years of operations. The spillover of effluents and pulp waste to surface water sources has been completely avoided, leading to protection of biodiversity.” In addition to this, the collectives have earned an operating surplus during both the processing seasons, giving them the financial capacity to continue their operations. “Most importantly, the use of the washing equipment has enabled the groups to comply with the environmental regulations, thereby protecting grower livelihoods,” Kumar says, adding that the conventional pulping units were subject to confiscation by the Pollution Control Board, which would have prevented growers from producing washed Arabicas or Robustas. This program of group certification has also provided an incentive for the growers to work collectively. The CBI estimates that farmer incomes will rise by at least 4 per cent when the produce of the harvest season of 2016 is sold to leading exporters with a price premium. As well as this, there have been significant improvements in grower awareness regarding farming practices that promote sustainable coffee production and farm-level processing. For example, all the collectives have begun composting of pulp waste with the compost being sold to members. “This initiative has the potential to chart a fresh roadmap for the broad-based involvement of small coffee growers in commercial processes that support sustainable coffee production ,while also furthering environmental conservation and development,” Kumar says. “The CBI is now in the process of designing a large-scale program to replicate the project’s processes and promote climate-resilient coffee production. The new program envisages the utilisation of technological packages, such as methane capture using anaerobic digestors, that reduce emissions. The program would also promote the use of renewable energy technologies in farms and coffee processing units.” GCR

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