As a conservationist and a coffee addict, the fact that every cup of coffee destroys three square centimeters of rain forest does not sit well with me. And think about the fact that 1.4 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily and you can see my dilemma! I wanted to find a way of growing and selling a cup of coffee that is kinder to the environment. But what kind of conservation intervention could work? Regulatory or voluntary, awareness generation or market-based?
I came to the Kinship Fellows program with the seed of an idea for a market-based strategy that would incentivize coffee farmers to grow coffee under the shade of native tree species. In India, the default approach is to cordon off areas for biodiversity. Where we have engaged communities, we’ve been thinking about totally changing their livelihood by introducing alternative strategies. But this kind of conservation imposes significant economic costs on people. At the Fellows program, I was challenged to think of ways to modify livelihood practices (in my case, coffee farming) to make them more biodiversity-friendly, but to also offset some of the economic costs associated with such conservation. It was a shift in ideology. In particular, learning about social enterprises was thought-provoking. That along with the leadership training gave me confidence to try out these market-based ideas, which are quite uncommon in India!
Two years on, I have started a conservation enterprise that implements exactly the kinds of ideas I developed at the program. My coffee company is trying to drive change in the coffee value chain—from farmers to consumers. At the farm level, I am a responsible trader that provides economic incentives to producers to adopt biodiversity-friendly farming practices. At a consumer level, I tell coffee drinkers this unique story through 100% traceability. Before Kinship, I didn’t even think something like this would count as conservation. Kinship made me turn my conservation ideologies upside down and pushed me to be innovative and open-minded.
“At Kinship, I was challenged to think of ways to modify livelihood practices (in my case, coffee farming) to make them more biodiversity-friendly, but to also offset some of the economic costs associated with such conservation.”