Black Baza Coffee was created with the purpose of empowering smallholder producers to grow coffee through biodiversity-friendly practices.
The idea emerged as an outcome of Founder, Arshiya Bose’s doctoral research project. A human geographer, Arshiya completed her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, in the UK, on market incentives for conserving biodiversity – she used certification for coffee as a case study. Her research proposed that there was tremendous unmet potential to build a locally relevant movement for sustainable coffee.
She founded Black Baza Coffee in 2016 as a means to build an alternative to the global certification model.
At present, we work with over 650 smallholder producers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Meghalaya, most of whom are from indigenous communities who have lived in surrounding forests for millennia. We work alongside producers to grow and roast a diversity of Indian coffees across elevational gradients, native vegetation, and soil types – from high altitude washed Arabicas, fermented and honey processed coffees to natural and washed Robustas. Our micro-lots highlight uniquely processed coffees from interesting habitats and through these micro-lots, our effort has been to showcase diversity rather than standardize all coffees and flavors.
Black Baza’s focus areas are the following:
- Being a fair and transparent partner: wherein we use Fair Trade principles (and beyond) as an anchor to carry out transparent and direct trade with growers.
- Promote regenerative, biodiversity-friendly farming practices: Our partner producers grow coffee without any chemical inputs and under a diversity of indigenous tree species and forest cover. We co-create a set of farming principles based on findings from long-term research, including participatory ecological surveys and focus group discussions. Farming principles and ecological monitoring are centered on selected biodiversity indicators and tree species, such as bees, earthworms, and certain native trees.
- Usefully biodegradable packaging: from bags that are made from recycled agricultural waste to sticking tape.
- Strengthen local institutions: through the creation of farmer producer organizations with active meetings, capacity building for good governance, and collective decision-making.
- Stabilize yields: current levels of productivity are extremely low. We want to work to systematically improve coffee yields using ecologically acceptable techniques. We train producers who manage the farm to monitor signs regarding the health of coffee plants and make adjustments based on the plant’s requirements.
- Improve coffee quality: We work with producers, particularly women who spend more time on the farm to cultivate practices that eventually improve the quality of coffee – from selective picking, hand pulping, fermenting, and drying.
- Facilitating active participation of women in collective decision-making: We facilitate the active participation of women in the farmer producer organization – from holding official roles in the board of the local organizations, attending meetings, and contributing their inputs.
- Highlighting the role of women to consumers: The role of women in coffee value chains has been largely overlooked – even in the specialty coffee industry. We feel it is important to highlight this role through innovative means – such as a ‘women’s coffee’ – a blend developed (through cup-tasting workshops) by the women.
We believe that if we conserve the forest and respect the hands that cultivate it, we will be able to taste this goodness in our cup of coffee!