Coffee is an important traded commodity and one of the most preferred beverages in the world. It is also a key crop in India. 70% of the Indian coffee production is concentrated in the three districts of Kushalnagar, Hasan and Chikmagalur in the South Karnataka region. These regions are also the biodiversity hotspots of the Western Ghats.
In an interview with Mandeepsingh Tuli, Procurement Director - Nutrition & Ice Cream, Unilever, South Asia, we get to know how we have embarked on our journey with regenerative agriculture principles to improve farmer income and positively impact climate change in the coffee sector.
We’re one of India’s largest coffee companies. How are we making a positive impact on the industry?
Indian Coffee is unique as it grows in shade and on elevation. Often extreme climate changes like excess rainfall and temperature variations cause soil and water erosion and landslides. The berry development is also impacted due to extreme temperature variations.
HUL is working with IDH (The Sustainable Trade Initiative) and its suppliers like ECOM, NKG and Sucden by uniting the efforts towards achieving climate resilience.
Along with this, the partnership aims to improve smallholder farmers’ incomes, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production, and ultimately strive for low or net-zero carbon coffee production. Furthermore, using contract farming in Chicory helps us engage with farmers who have the best agronomic practices for better yield, and soil and water conversation practices. This has helped us ensure that 100% of our chicory is sourced sustainably.
What are the key challenges while responsibly sourcing coffee? How do we solve these?
The Indian coffee supply chain is long, fragmented, and dominated by smallholder farmers. The share of value distribution leans towards the middlemen due to which many farmers do not receive their fair share. Our farmers need to be enabled to invest in increasing the productivity of the Robusta and Arabica coffee types on par with other producing countries.
Our sustainability partnership with IDH will help achieve this by focusing on improving yields while using our regenerative agriculture principles. This coalition of like-minded organisations, with a shared purpose of net zero commitment and improving living incomes, will help in creating a focused impact program across the coffee industry.
Tell us about the importance of certification and transparency in our coffee supply chain.
A higher level of traceability and transparency is key to achieving Unilever’s sustainability goals. Certification schemes focus on the process of compliance with a labelling program and ensure that the coffee we buy is grown with biodiversity, conservation and sustainability in mind. This is essential in the context of climate change and social equity. Certification also helps farmers produce better crops, improve productivity and optimise costs. The certification programs also promote innovations, digital record keeping and promote continuous improvement model that incentivises farmers to move forward along the path of sustainability.