‘Als je koffie drinken goed doet, kun je een bijdrage leveren aan de kwaliteit van biodiversiteit’. – biodiversiteit is het in balans houden van een dienstbaar natuur. Wie is er immers niet bekend met het gegeven dat de natuur ons veel terug geeft zodra het in goede handen ligt. Het realiseren van toezicht gepaard soms met terugwerkende kracht. Het is dan ook altijd weer fijn om te lezen dat er organisaties als ‘Black Baza Coffee‘ zijn. Het bedrijf is ontstaan in India, een land met ruim 1.266.883.598 inwoners. Dit is behoorlijk veel vergeleken met een land als Nederland (17.016.967 inwoners). Het bedrijf is dan ook opgericht om de verbetering van biodiversiteit in stand te houden. De eerste vier jaar van Black Baza Coffee bestond voornamelijk uit het communiceren met 300 verschillende kwekers. – belangrijke zaken als: schaduwbomen, koffieopbrengsten, waardeketen en duurzaamheid kwamen daarbij aan de orde.
Hoewel India één van de meest duurzame productie systemen ter wereld hanteert, groeide hun koffie veelal vanuit de schaduw richting de zon. Om dit te vermijden is men in 2015 van start gegaan met het verkopen van koffie. Op deze manier konden koffieproducenten ondersteunt worden bij het volgen van biodiversiteitsvriendelijke landbouw. Black Baza Coffee definieert nu dat koffie onder de schaduw van inheemse bosbomen groeit, zonder invloed van chemische pesticiden en met actieve herbebossing van gebieden op voormalig wildgebieden van deze boerderijen. Oprichter van Black Baza Coffee, Arshiya Bose wist mij het fijne te vertellen over haar project.
When and how did you started Black Baza Coffee? | I started studying coffee as a PhD student in 2009. I was in the Department of Geography at Cambridge University and my interest was in linking local coffee farming practices (the culture, sociopolitics etc.) to global forces (market fluctuations, certifications and so on). In the course of this 5 year study, I ended up doing interviews with over 300 coffee growers. I didn’t really have a big research budget which meant that a lot of time was spent meeting people first hand and understanding their histories, farming practices and perceptions about coffee and markets. Over many cups of coffee (pun intended!), some of the producers asked me if I would be interested to create a project that could impact them in a direct and tangible way. At the end of my PhD work, all my observations were pointing to the conclusion that except for a few minor modifications, most projects (like eco-certification for coffee) were promoting business rather than creating value. In BR Hills, Karnataka (where we source coffee from currently), growers receive 20-30% less than the market price on any particular day. This concerned me as a conservationist. It was clear that social and environmental problems were aplenty but the current model of certification (indeed this market tool) did not do enough.
Your enterprise Black Baza Coffee Co. has been dedicated to growing coffee through biodiversity-friendly farming practices. Can you take us through it’s journey to where it stands now? I started Black Baza Coffee Co. with the aim of taking my learning from PhD research and creating a more farmer-friendly process. I knew little about coffee and nothing about running companies. I simply felt a restlessness to act on the problems I was seeing and loneliness when I looked around and found nobody else with me. And so I reconciled with the idea of starting an imperfect project and promised myself that I would work on getting it progressively less wrong as I went along.
As a conservation project at its core, Black Baza Coffee starts off with ‘conservation agreements’ with growers. Producers commit to maintaining 100 trees an acre, at least 22 species with no single tree dominating 20% of the total abundance, 60-70% shade cover for Robusta and 70-80% shade cover for Arabica and at least a three-tier canopy structure. Farms also restrict the use of any chemical pesticide. Majority of the farms we work with at the moment (146 of 150 farms) were default organic but for those that did use chemical fertiliser we also agreed that this will be reduced to 1.5 kgs of NPK annual with the aim of transitioning to zero. In return, Black Baza Coffee guarantees a buyback at a 15-20% premium over the market price. Equally importantly we run capacity building programmes throughout the year to improve coffee quality and farm management. We are also exploring price fluctuation buffers and insurance schemes.
We have also mapped farms and done checklists of tree species, monitored shade cover at regular intervals throughout the year, surveyed spider families and documented mammals using our coffee farms. Our biodiversity assessments do not as yet tell us with scientific accuracy whether our approach to shade-grown farming is yielding any biodiversity outcomes. However they do tell us that we could be on the right track! Shade canopy has increased as farms stopped lopping tree branches. Farms look more ‘rustic’ and there is plenty of research from Central America that shows that increased canopy cover and a diversity of trees support birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals.
As a coffee company we have grown in the market to include many more growers than we originally started out with. We started with 4, then expanded to 35 and this year we hope to reach out to 150 farmers across the Western Ghats. This of course also indicates that the area under biodiversity-friendly cultivation has also increased manifold. Equally interesting is the fact that coffee drinkers across the country now start their day with a tiny conservation story on their breakfast table. You can French Press the Ficus Blend, drink the Otter coffee through an Aeropress, enjoy a Lion-Tailed Macaque (we call the coffee the ‘Wanderoo’, an ancient Sinhalese word for the LTM) or have The Whistling School filter kaapi! This is our approach to consumer advocacy. The vision is that if coffee drinkers demand that their coffee comes from farms that conserve biodiversity, perhaps more farms will be urged to cultivate in ecologically acceptable ways.Many people don’t know this but 70% of coffee growers across the world are smallholders which means that individuals cultivate coffee on less than 25 acres. Our collective of coffee growers cultivate on less than 1 acre! This means they face numerous risks and vulnerabilities and our duty as a coffee company is to build in safeguards so that we can strengthen their livelihoods as well as the enhance the biodiversity value of their farms.
Black Baza Coffee is located in India, is it difficult to launch a coffee brand there? It is because for a number of reasons. We aren’t used to ordering coffee online! We are used to drinking coffee blended with chicory.
Which taste is your favourite? The Ficus Blend is my favourite – the beans have been selectively harvested from under the shade of Ficus Trees.
Why should people try your coffee? Because we are a great example of how good business practices, great quality coffee and a respect for land and its producers come together.