By Indrani Bose
The affair between coffee and India started 400 years ago when the legendary Sufi saint Baba Budan brought seven magical beans from Yemen and sowed them in the Chandragiri hills of Karnataka. But Indians have been known to love tea since the days of British colonisation, with coffee being more of a social lubricant. We are no coffee connoisseurs and most Indians have little idea about French press coffee makers, as they are content with ready-to-make coffees. A majority may be familiar with terms like ‘latte’ and ‘cappuccino’ (thanks to the coffee chains), but ask them about Arabica or Robusta, and their clueless faces will give them away.
These perceptions are what the Coffee Board of India aims to change. “Everyone drinks tea. I have to make them drink coffee… make them taste coffee. People have to understand coffee’s taste. They have to realise the benefits of coffee. There are a lot of myths regarding coffee. We think green tea is good and coffee isn’t. We are trying to break those myths and make you taste it,” says Srivasta Krishna, secretary and CEO, Coffee Board.
For this purpose, the board has undertaken many initiatives, the latest of which was the launch of some apps to help coffee farmers across the country. From helping them know weather patterns to identifying crop diseases, these apps, which will be pilot-tested in 10 panchayats in Karnataka and Kerala, aim to provide timely technological help to farmers. For the initiative, the board has joined forces with EKA Software Solutions, a digital commodity management platform.
The Coffee Board further intends to bridge the gap between the farmer who produces coffee and his consumer. In fact, the statutory organisation, which functions under the administrative control of the ministry of commerce and industry, aims to do away completely with the middleman, doubling or tripling the income of farmers who currently get only 5% of the profits.
The primary reason for launching the apps—Coffee Connect, Coffee Krishi Tharanga, Hyper Local Weather Forecast, Blockchain-Based Marketplace, etc—is to make sure there is ample exchange of information between the Coffee Board and those
responsible for growing and selling coffee. Currently, 170 Coffee Board extension personnel offer services to 3.66 lakh coffee farmers in India—or one extension officer per 2,153 farmers.
With the help of these apps, information (such as plantation details, plant material, age, production, infrastructure, machinery available, etc) will also be provided to field functionaries, using a combination of digitisation technologies like geo-tagging.
Shuchi Nijhawan, vice-president, agribusiness, EKA Software Solutions, says, “For the past 14 years, EKA has been working with a lot of coffee trading companies outside India. So when our co-founder said we should do something in India, we thought of the Coffee Board because it is a forward-looking organisation. The Blockchain-Based Marketplace app, for instance, looks at eliminating middlemen and helping farmers connect directly with coffee giants like Starbucks and Tata.”
At the launch of the mobile apps, the utility of drone technology in agriculture was also demonstrated. “Agriculture and horticulture are growing in a big way. But despite the growth, challenges remain. One of these challenges is productivity. India is the highest irrigated land in the world… technology is the only way we can address the issue of productivity,” said commerce minister Suresh Prabhu. “Giving the right quantity of nutrients and ensuring proper control is very important for agricultural productivity,” he added.