Araku Valley's aromatic coffee in instant

Araku Valley's aromatic coffee in instant

Araku valley near Visakhapatnam of Andhra Pradesh is the home for honey, tamarind, ginger, spices and nuts, enabling the tribal people to earn a decent living despite a tough life in the hilly terrain. Araku is also known for its coffee, grown as an inter crop with black pepper in around 40,000 hectares in the entire Eastern Ghats.

The Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC), which facilitates marketing of  forest products cultivated or collected by tribals in the state, is now planning to enter retail coffee market from February 2017 to bring the aromatic Arabica coffee close to its connoisseurs in the instant form.

The much-awaited step was taken more than a decade and half after introducing its Anantagiri coffee in the market. Coffee grows on the slopes of the Visakha agency from Anantagiri to Araku both in government-controlled and tribal-controlled slopes. More than one lakh farmers cultivate coffee beans in small patches. According to the GCC, tribals produce around 7,000 tonnes of coffee every year.

In 2010 the Narsipatnam-based Coffee Board Regional Research Station and Nandi Foundation marketed the Araku coffee in the name of “Araku Emerald”. It was an instant hit as no pesticide was ever used to cultivate the coffee beans giving it a special aroma. Nandi Foundation was exporting about 400 tonnes of coffee to some of the European countries.

However, the organic coffee never found its due place in the domestic market which is dominated by a few multinational brands as the coffee is made available in the instant form.

The rare Araku coffee can be tasted at the coffee shop and museum in the Araku Valley. Tourists make a beeline for the coffee shop attracted by the aroma of the freshly brewed filter coffee. The shop also offers coffee powder, chocolate made of coffee and a glimpse into the journey of coffee in the country and specifically Visakha forest area.

“Not everyone can travel to Araku to taste the coffee and many don’t have a coffee maker with them to prepare fresh coffee every day. Many ask us for instant coffee,” the salesman at the coffee shop says. The coffee can also be tasted in one of the roadside shops on the 40-km ghat road from Sringavarapu Kota to Araku.

The corporation has roped in 160 distributors, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to market at least 20 tonnes of coffee products worth Rs 50 lakh. “The aim is to take the sales to 100 tonnes,” a GCC official said. Around 50 kg of beans have been sent to two roasting units at Kushalnagar in Karnataka and Duggirala near Tenali of Andhra Pradesh to convert them into powder form.

Then the instant form will be sent to a private laboratory in Bengaluru for tasting. If found suitable to market the Araku instant coffee will be sold in packets of 50 gm, 100 gm, 250 gm, and 500 gm. At present the GCC is selling a 200 gm Araku filter coffee (60% coffee, 40% Chicory blend) at Rs 120, and 200 gm of pure Araku filter coffee powder at Rs 130. There is also a plan to bring “Visakhi” a new special-blended coffee (70:30) very soon. Last year the corporation procured 1,400 tonnes of beans from Visakha agency out of which 90% is sold through e-auction.

Remaining coffee is being sold through different outlets in Araku valley and its surrounding tourists spots. GCC vice-chairman and Managing Director ASPS Ravi Prakash said that opening of new marketing avenues is vital as the tribal people have been cheated by middlemen for too long. “Coffee was appreciated by delegates of BRICS, World Fleet Review and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself when he visited Visakhapatnam. But mere branding will not help, we must actively distribute the coffee in the form demanded by the consumer,” he says.

Chipping in to make  a tribal retail brand, around 20,000 farmers have registered themselves with the corporation and another one lakh have agreed to supply beans to it. The GCC has almost tripled its procurement rates beating the middlemen in their game. “Middlemen from the plains come here and purchase our products at very low rates. Now we have decided to sell only to the corporation,” a farmer in Tyda hamlet said.

Other than coffee the tribal farmers sell rock bee honey, tamarind, different kinds of nuts, kumkum, and mango flavoured ginger in local weekend markets. The state procures 25 different products from the tribals and markets them. The government is setting up an exclusive showroom in the capital region of Amaravati.

From its part, the Andhra Pradesh Government recently announced that it has a target of cultivating coffee in one lakh acres in the agency area and to increase the turnover of the GCC from Rs 80 crore to Rs 350 crore. Social Welfare Minister Ravela Kishorbabu has said that the government is willing to advance loans to 10,000 coffee growers in the agency area and has already deferred collection of farming loans of 20,000 farmers worth Rs 1.88 crore. With the government determined to create brand identity, the world famous organic tribal coffee, the lesser-known tribes of the Eastern Ghats, are poised to find a prominent place among various brands of instant coffee.

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