Certification not only helps farmers and the environment, but it can also act as a catalyst for change throughout a whole region. We spoke with Thribuvan Sathvik, a coffee member of the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium, the first and only coffee small holder group in India to independently hold an UTZ certificate, to talk about the tangible benefits he’s seen since certification and the ways in which it’s helping them continue to preserve the unique biodiversity of the region as a whole.

A dedicated group of growers passionate about the environment

About 80% of India’s coffee is grown in the Western Ghats, an area of unique biodiversity in southwestern India. Within the heart of this mountainous region based in India’s core coffee growing state of Karnataka, lies the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium.

Neelkant Pandhare visting a coffee farm in India

Field Coordinator for the UTZ program in India, Neelkant Pandhare (left) at a coffee farm of the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium

The consortium is known for their active commitment to protecting the diversity of their region. Their coffee has even earned the name ‘forest coffee’ because of the lengths farmers in the consortium go to protect the unique flora and fauna in and around their coffee ecosystems.

Joining UTZ was seen as a way to take this commitment further.

“These coffee growers would like to do more to conserve the rich biodiversity that they have been holding on to and nurturing for many decades,” says Neelkant Pandhare, Field Coordinator for the UTZ program in India.

Training brings efficiency and traceability

Thribuvan Sathvik conducting training

Thribuvan Sathvik conducting training to members of the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium

Since becoming certified in 2016, the Consortium has implemented training programs that are helping farmers use their resources more efficiently. “We are now aware of chemicals that are harmful to both local biodiversity and workers and many farmers are also looking to move to organic cultivation practices wherever feasible. Also, a community eco-pulper has allowed for collective processing,” Thribuvan Sathvik says.

Moreover, the Internal Management System has improved group cohesion and diligence in individual farms while traceability systems have helped in preserving the farmer identity and in building awareness of coffee quality. Sathvik notes that access to the web-based traceability system has been a great way for the consortium to share the origin story of the brand along the supply chain.

Looking to the future, farmers are using their UTZ training to identify vulnerabilities. Recognizing coffee price volatility and climate change as serious threats, they have begun planting black pepper, vanilla, cardamom, areca nut, orange, and banana to help diversify their farms.

Empowered to negotiate a better price

 “The consortium is the only group in India where smallholder farmers contribute towards the cost of UTZ certification,” says Thribuvan Sathvik. “Hence, the UTZ certificate is held by the farmers, which empowers them to bargain collectively for better prices across the market.”

The consortium is the only group in India where smallholder farmers contribute towards the cost of UTZ certification which empowers them to bargain collectively for better prices across the market.

This is significant as 99% of coffee farmers in India have small holdings (less than 4 hectares) and information regarding the impact of certification is limited. Consequently, farmers with large holdings are usually the only ones to get UTZ certified through an ‘exporter led – group certification model’ where the cost of certification is paid by the exporter who then holds the certificate.

A gateway to new markets and region-wide improvements

Member meeting of the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium in India

Member meeting of the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium in India

 Through UTZ certification, the Consortium hopes to access new markets and achieve higher returns in order to offset costs associated with more responsible production. Sathvik: “A new marketing effort under the banner ‘Wesfarm’ has helped elevate our brand to potential buyers.”

He also realizes the greater impact that certification can have on the region at large. “The most prominent benefit of UTZ certification is that it has acted as a catalyst for adopting sustainable production practices in the Western Ghats.”

The most prominent benefit of UTZ certification is that it has acted as a catalyst for adopting sustainable production practices in the Western Ghats.

“Looking ahead we would like to directly connect with conscious consumers who value our coffee and appreciate the ecosystem in which it is grown,” Thribuvan Sathvik concludes.

Want to get in touch with the Western Ghats Sustainable Farming Consortium? Interested in learning more about certification? Send us an email at marketing@utz.org.