Keezhanthoor- An idyllic village in Idukki District, 56 Kilometres from picturesque Munnar, in Kerala. It’s a safe haven to 202 Coffee Farmers, including 41 women (27%), from a socially disadvantaged section of the population. Keezhanthoor has now evolved as a vibrant subgroup of Manarcadu Social Service Society (MASS), in collaboration with the local elected governing body, the Grama Chathram. All decision-making pertaining to the village is handled by its 14 members. From amicably resolving conflicts to appointing a trusted coffee buyer like MASS, there is a democratic consensus.
Keezhanthoor being a High Range region, has access only to very basic health and education facilities, affecting the living standards of people. In collaboration with the Grama Chathram, MASS has successfully implemented many developmental initiatives here, actively engaging with the coffee farming community. Farmers were given in-depth training on Fairtrade criteria and the practical skills to undertake sustainable organic farming. The daily coffee collection centre and storage facility established by MASS was a game-changer in the coffee trading arena at Keezhanthoor.
Before this, the coffee farmers were at the mercy of unscrupulous middlemen. The intermediaries purchased coffee at extremely low prices from the unsuspecting farmers, who incurred heavy losses in the transaction. MASS committed to purchasing coffee from farmers at prices higher than prevalent market rates, eliminating the need for middlemen. This facilitated direct interaction between farmers and buyers. For the first time, coffee farmers of Keezhanthoor started reaping the fair benefits of their hard toil.
MASS further diversified social intervention to other areas. To uplift the social and economic status of the coffee farmers, the Financial Bonus Project was instituted. To prevent school dropouts among children and to eliminate child labour, educational scholarships were awarded to farmers’ children for school and university education. MASS leveraged the influence and know-how of its international and domestic network to provide Skill Development programmes and Internship opportunities to the local youth, in the realm of organic farming. The villagers wholeheartedly participated in and appreciated these initiatives.
Of the many testimonials, a strong woman farmer, Mahalakshmi’s endorsement stands out,
“From the day MASS started directly procuring coffee from us, we have much reason to be happy.
We get a fair price for our produce. Our standard of living has positively enhanced. The additional bonus we get is a godsend. MASS has imparted training on sustainable farming systems to improve coffee farming yield. We have been equipped with the techniques to develop organic farmlands. MASS introduced equal pay for all farmworkers; this brought about a significant transformation. Putting an end to the earlier wage disparity between genders is true for Women Empowerment. I am grateful to MASS President Mr Bijumon Kurien and his dedicated team for their untiring efforts to uplift our coffee farming community.”
However, things took a turn during the last month due to the Covid Pandemic. Almost 80% of the 250 families in the hamlet were affected by Covid 19. The village came to a standstill. Even essential commodities were scarce. People struggled severely. Subgroup Chairman Mr Krishnan and Secretary Mr Subramaniam highlighted the dire situation to the express attention of Mr Bijumon. MASS made a lightning-fast decision to intervene and get matters under control. The team regrouped and reorganized to efficiently put together a high-quality sustenance kit for the affected families of Keezhanthoor. Boosting the morale of the distressed community was an urgent priority, that MASS embarked on.
The sustenance kit comprised of items needed by everyone in the family, including children. Books and geometry boxes ensured that children could enjoy uninterrupted learning. Physical well-being was addressed by including nutritious food items like grains and pulses. To ensure cleanliness, personal hygiene articles like bathing soap and toothpaste were part of the kit. Organic coffee powder and coconut oil completed the supplies inventory. Once portioned and packed, Society Secretary Mr Joby Scaria proactively took up the responsibility to deliver the kits to Keezhanthoor from the assembly location on a war footing. On June 22, 2021, following strict Covid protocol, the kits were distributed to the community members by Society office bearers. MASS considers it an honour to be able to lend a helping hand to Keezhanthoor coffee farmers in times of the pandemic.
The innocent words of eight-year-old Vidula inspire MASS to stay socially responsible and committed,
“I am grateful to MASS for the timely help offered to our family when My father Mr Kumaravel was quarantined due to Covid 19. We received support in the form of abundant school supplies and essential food items.”
At MASS, we are joyfully reminded that there’s many a mile more to tread on our Social Service journey.