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Hoysala Estate, India: «Stagnant prices, climate change put huge pressure on coffee viability»

Hoysala Estate in Western Ghats, India

MILAN – 1895 Coffee Designers by Lavazza is a new brand created in Turin in an experience factory, a place where craftsmanship meets technical innovation to offer a fascinating trip in the universe of coffee. The range includes seven different coffees of which four single origins – Cafuné from Brazil, Encantado from Colombia, Kilele from Kenya and Opera Prima from Yemen – and three blends – Petal Storm, Hypnotic Fruit and Cocoa Rebel. This time, we talked with the person in charge of Hoysala Estate, a farm in Western Ghats, India, which is among the suppliers to the Italian specialty roaster.

How is the life of a farmer? What’s it like every day?

It is a real privilege and a joy to be a farmer in the beautiful Western Ghats of India. And to be growing coffee and pepper is an incredible experience. Our day starts at 7:25am with the roll call where all farm workers gather to receive the order of work for the day. Tasks are prioritized by understanding the season and situation in the farm. After the field work ends all records are updated in the office and the day closes at about 5:30Pm.

Which are the main characteristics of Hoysala Estate? Altitudes, climate conditions, terroir?

Our farms have been in existence since the late 1800’s, managed by the same families over generations and remain committed to producing excellent coffee, consistently. We have developed cultivation and processing abilities over the years to adapt with the local environment including rainfall and terrain. Elevation of these farms range from 900Mtrs Msl to 1350Mtrs Msl.

Our soils are rich in humus and organic matter with abundant natural minerals that play host to some of the most diverse and rare soil microbes and soil fungi. These create some of the best soils for coffee, black pepper, spices and fruit crops.

Is it all cultivated by coffee trees or with other cultures?

The crops are grown on slopes with two tier shade. Coffee plants are interlined with native jungle trees and smaller nitrogen fixing shade trees. Black Pepper is grown on the shade and jungle trees. Some areas are interlined with Orange and Avocado trees as well. Time tested practices that use organic and inorganic inputs are deployed being ever-conscious of our footprint on the local ecology and long term sustainability of the plantation.

What are the type of coffees that you produce and with which methods?

Annually, we produce nearly 10000 bags of excellent Arabica and Robusta coffee in Washed, Natural and Honey Coffee forms. In Arabica, we mainly have the Sarchimore, Catuai and Sln.795 varieties. We also grow a little Yellow Bourbon and Geisha, but that is new. In Robusta, we mainly have the Old Robusta or Peredenia variety and Sln. 274 variety.

What is the necessary know-how to do it in a professional way?

There needs to be a process for every stage backed with accurate recording of activities. And, this process needs to be adjusted suitably with the changing weather conditions. This is the most essential thing to manage the operations is a professional way.

When and why have you decided to be a farmer?

We hail from families connected to coffee production and so share long time understanding of it as a crop. Although we did pursue alternate careers in finance, we returned around 15 years ago to pursue our dreams of showcasing and delivering outstanding coffee from India to the world. Also to live closer to nature and help carry forward this heritage.

Which are the main difficulties for this work?

Unpredictable and rapidly changing climate conditions leading to rising pest attacks and huge crop losses annually.
Scarcity of labour leading to rising wages and untimely work.
Stagnant coffee prices that put huge pressure on viability.

And what are the risks if nothing will change soon?

There is only one risk – coffee farming activity will be neglected and alternate options will be pursued. Alternate crops will replace coffee and focus will continue to develop in tourism and real estate. This is will have a lot of impact on the local environment and of course the quality and quantity of coffee produced.

How do you think to fight climate change and all the diseases that are going to threaten the future of cultivations?

Our farms are located in the ‘Western Ghats’ of India. Western Ghats clusters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, and described as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity were inscribed in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites list in July 2012.

Continuing to grow coffee here and maintaining the farms is our biggest contribution to fighting climate change. Support us in this effort by buying our coffees at their true value.

How did you achieve to work with an Italian big company as Lavazza?

We have been producing and exporting outstanding coffees for many years, especially through the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe India. With them, teams from Lavazza visited our farms in 2013 and then again in 2019. They liked what they saw in terms of our operations here and also our passion and commitment to making available outstanding coffee. They also cupped and analyzed some of the coffee we produced. This gave them the confidence to work with us. We are also happy to be working with them and hope our relationship develops over the years to come.

What has it changed for your work and life?

It has opened a sizeable opportunity for us. They also have very clear expectations. It is easier to meet expectations of one large consumer rather than many smaller ones. As we progress, Lavazza may consume a lot of the coffee we produce. When this will happen it will stabilize the risks on sales side of our operations and allow us to focus on cultivating, processing and producing outstanding coffee while sustaining the farms as well.

In a few sentences, can you try to convince the Italian consumer that it’s unfair to pay only one euro for your coffee and why?

It is not really the consumer who needs to be educated to pay more for the coffee. It is the trade that needs the convincing. When examined, at today’s prices of Four Euros per Kg of high quality green coffee, the cost of the coffee in that ‘one euro cup’ is only 0.06 Euros.

The remaining 0.94 Euros is in the value chain that takes the coffee to the consumer. If this value chain can develop a 3 Cent efficiency and pass it on to the producer it will go a very long way in sustaining the farms and give farmers a huge incentive to produce high quality coffee for the same Italian consumer. It is very encouraging for us to know that Lavazza has taken lots of steps in that direction and is pursuing the course further.