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India’s sustainable growth

From the December 2016 issue.

With the demand for certified coffee on the rise around the world, the Indian Coffee Board has launched a program to assist small farmers to gain access to this growing market.

Indian coffee farmers

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.

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