Coffee cultivation eases distressed migration among tribes in Odisha

Koraput, nestled in the hilly terrain of the Eastern Ghats at an elevation of 3,000 feet above sea level, is ideal for growing coffee due to its cool climate and favorable rainfall. However, before coffee became a viable economic possibility, distressed migration was the only option, with most tribal families traveling annually from Koraput to neighboring states of Odisha.

Scarcity of employment opportunities, environmental factors induced by climate change, poor agricultural production, lack of irrigation and drought, deforestation, insufficient food security, low wages, economic deprivation, exploitation by lenders or middlemen, deplorable working conditions, excessive indebtedness and a general bleak prospect of survival with dignity has forced people to leave their homes and seek better options.

Coffee to the rescue

Keeping these socio-economic barriers in mind, the district administration has attempted to provide alternative employment through coffee farming to workers who do not hold labor cards. Government extends support to Adivasis of Koraput, Nandpur, Dasmantpur, Laxmipur and Lamatput; two coffee nurseries have been established at Nandpur, Lamatput and Dasmantpur, and one at Koraput, Similiguda and Laxmipur.

District labor officer Prasno Panigrahi told 101Reporters: “As many as 9,940 people migrated to work from the district during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of these, 3,843 migrant construction workers have returned. Among them, 2,678 were unskilled and 172 went to work in brick kilns. . Many of them are now employed as laborers on coffee plantations.”

Manik Kooda from Golur village, Nandpur block says, “Three Self Help Groups (SHGs) in the villages have been involved in growing and selling coffee, earning over Rs 40,000 per year. This year, our profit margin increased by Rs 12,000 per SHG. This cultivation has, indeed, brought a remarkable change in the lives of the tribal people, who have mainly practiced shifting cultivation, or podu, for generations.

“We have been growing coffee since 2012 but we did not make much money from it as traders were buying from us at Rs 10-15 per kg. However, TDCCOL started buying it at Rs 35 per kg. last, with the help of the Coffee Board, Coffee Development Trust and District Administration, we started selling at Rs 45 per kg.”

“Previously, families were supported by daily wages. But now I am earning money by growing coffee on 2 acres and selling 294 kg of coffee berries. Besides coffee, we grow black pepper and fruits of the dragon, which has led to economic recovery. The Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) has also provided employment for us as laborers working in the coffee nursery for the past eight months,” adds Badnayak.

Migration was the only way out

“Every year the whole family used to go to Andhra Pradesh in search of work. Due to the unavailability of work at the time of Covid, we borrowed a lot of money,” recalls one Diba Jani from Punjisil village, Dasmantapur block. “My children even had to drop out of school. But with the help of TDCCOL, we sold 750 kg of coffee in 2021 and made a profit of Rs 34,000. Now I can work on my land in my village, and the children have also resumed school.”

Until a few years ago, Sumoni Dami from Ghumar village under Lamtaput block would travel to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh or Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh in October-November in search of work. They were forced to migrate with their whole family, in search of a way to earn a living and escape the imminent threat of the Naxalites in their native village.

The situation has since improved as Dami and other farmers in the village are now passionate about growing coffee after the government gave them incentives. For the past eight months, they have received funding to grow coffee in government nurseries, using scientific techniques prescribed by the Coffee Board and growing the crop on their own farmland.

A life-changing livelihood

Sasmita Samantaray, OLM project manager in charge of coffee nurseries says that for the first time, thanks to the cultivation of coffee, people have won their rights. From seedlings, farmers can cultivate in their permitted hill land and make a profit from the berries.

“Currently, the government has sanctioned official hill forest land papers under forest land rights, in which people are given encouragement and support to grow coffee. Beyond the coffee nursery, the sale of fertilizer and garden soil through the efforts of women’s SHGs is also paving the way for new jobs,” she adds.

“The collective work of the communities contributes to the operations and increases the dividends. The women of several villages, about 100 women from 10 SHGs, have contributed many hours to this project, while the men have obtained paid employment transporting fodder and by building nurseries and plantations.”

According to the Director, Migration and Education, of Aide et Action International Umi Daniel, in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, about 2 lakh migrant workers returned to undivided Koraput, of which a large number of adivasis had surrendered. in Chhattisgarh and Andhra. Pradesh to work in brick kilns.

“It is also not an easy task to get work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as people do not have work cards,” adds- he.

“According to government data for 2017-18, 2,92,549 households in the district had the card under MGNREGA, of which 93,519 (31%) had access to MGNREGA, and only 884 (0.94%) households got 100 days of work. It is therefore encouraging to see how coffee farming is providing work for unskilled labor in tribal households.The district administration should come up with more strategies to give them more work.

Koraput Coffee Board Senior Liaison Officer Upendra Saha also believes that most adivasis under the Forest Rights Act have become self-sufficient through coffee farming.

“Until 2017, coffee was grown on 1,777 hectares with the help of the Coffee Board and the Soil Conservation Department. Between 2017 and 2022, plantations were established on 232 ha of land. 1,500 adivasis under the law,” Saha adds.

“Across the state, 3.46 lakh ha are suitable for growing coffee, including 1.46 lakh ha in Koraput alone. However, so far only 3,000 ha have been utilized. Nevertheless, this has brought much-needed relief to farmers like Dami.. Coffee farming provides permanent jobs and profitable returns to farmers not just for a few seasons; it guarantees economic survival for nearly 20 years.

Furthermore, in light of its economic profitability and for the advancement of coffee in Odisha, the state government has for the first time considered the Coffee Mission independently, under which the cultivation of coffee will be done on 5,000 ha of Koraput district, providing an opportunity for self-reliance to ancient and traditional farmers. Of these 5,000 ha, 2,072 ha will be cultivated with the help of migrant labor from the district. Hence, TDCCOL, since 2018, has helped and succeeded in creating a trusted brand of premium wild forest coffee made by Koraput tribal communities, which has gained widespread fame and acceptance as “Koraput Coffee”.

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