A recent report in one of India's largest Newspaper Times of India covered an interesting feature on workers leaving the coffee estates and departing to their home town. This story is an interesting perspective on the expansion of the coffee trade, and how the whole world around its people and land are constantly changing. Displacing people, who would have traveled hundreds of miles as the story indicates the widespread growth of coffee industry in the Coorg region, where much of the film "Elephants in the Coffee", was filmed and interviews were collaborated. We have repeatedly heard fro the small coffee farmers that having a robust group of picking workers during the season is becoming more and more difficult. Without the constant source of workers, who often were local daily wage laborers, who are now looking to go out for masonry or civil jobs with government contractors, the farming community has opened itself to migrant workers.
Is that profitable to farmers at all? No, it is not. Most migrant workers don't have the skill set nor the tenacity to work long hours in the coffee estates, but one that gets them security for few months and later dislodges them to do other things. And the culture of working in a coffee farm is quite different to these workers who come from plain lands and who are not exposed to the new climate, and the surroundings. Of course, they come in contact with elephants, who are constantly around the estates and most of them have never even heard nor exposed to seeing one ever in their life. Their first reaction often is like seeing a cattle and they often get closer to the elephants with the hope that nothing happens. Many farmers are now having a nightmare having workers from other regions to be employed for their daily work. The cell phone alert system from Tata's can only be successful in those areas where they have cell towers to have good access and where these workers have cell phones to use.
There are many other systems like flashing around the main roads, digital bill boards, etc. to get the attention of humans to the presence of elephants around. It is not an easy to constantly keep up with the elephants roaming around coffee or tea estates as a matter of fact. And this insecurity with the workers on a daily basis is not productive and beneficial to the farmers who depend on the harvest for making a sustainable production.
Picture courtesy: Karthik Krishnan
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College