Coorg is the primary growing district for India’s fledgling coffee industry. India’s rural economy is dominated by tea and cotton, so the coffee farmers are little known of, only producing 2 per cent of the world’s annual output. Coorg produces 80 per cent of India’s coffee, the majority of which is exported for use in instant blends.
For many years the region was a separate state, until it became part of Karnataka in 1956. During the Raj it was controlled separately by the British, due to the fertile soil that has produced the coffee and spices used across India for many years.
Most of the plantations are small operations, run by families that live and work on site, and make a very modest living. The area is also known as Kodagu and is the native home of the tribal Kodava people, the key plantation workers, who now constitute only 20 per cent of the population.
Kumar owns, works and lives on a small plantation growing coffee, rice and spices near Kalluru, a tiny village approximately 30 miles out of Madikeri, the capital of Coorg. His family acquired the plantation in the last 20 years and has lived there ever since. Kumar and his wife live and work there along with his brother and parents; their children live away, studying and working in other areas of Karnataka.
Their main crop is coffee, most of which is sold and distributed in the local area. Ganesh Coffee in Madikeri roasts and sells the smaller amounts of coffee from local growers, sometimes as little as 1kg at a time.
The price of land in Coorg is rising quickly due to the rapid growth of the Indian economy and increasing demand for specialist crops for export. The soil is famous for its fertility; a wide variety of crops grow easily in it, most notably coffee, but also rice, black pepper and cardamoms. In recent years there’s been a greatly increased demand for land in the area, both for generating into larger-scale plantations and building ecotourism retreats.
Made in Coorg: The Story of Indian Coffee, an exhibition of photographs by Phil Clarke-Hill, will be held at the Outside World Gallery, 44 Redchurch Street, London E2 7DP, from 7-11 October 2010
For more information, visit www.philclarkehill.co.uk