ALPINE COFFEE: CULTIVATING SUSTAINABLE COFFEE FARMING PRACTICES IN NEPAL
The thought of Himalayas is often an escapade for one, bringing with it a cool breeze of fresh air. Besides being bestowed with astounding beauty, the same Himalayas are perfectly designed for coffee cultivation. Its fertile hill slope, ranging between 800 and 2000 meters and the climatic conditions in the Nepalese Himalayas provide sufficient rain and moderate temperature for the cultivation of good quality coffee.
With a vision of becoming Nepal’s largest producers of coffee and popularizing coffee farming as the principle activity in the country, two young Nepalese entrepreneurs acquired 15 acres (Six hectares) of land for a coffee plantation and started Alpine Coffee Estate Private Ltd. in 2008. Set up in the foothills of Nuwakot, 35 kilometres north of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, this company today meets the ‘Speciality Coffee’ mark as per the test reports from Simon Levelt. However, what makes Alpine Coffee a real success is the kind of impact it has had on the livelihoods of farmers engaged in the coffee cultivation.
Traditionally, Coffee is a cash crop for farmers and provides cash income. However, in Nepal, Coffee does not feature in the primary crops, the volume per farmer remains very low. As per a report by Helvetas, 80% of the coffee farmers have less than 100 plants, producing 1,500 to 2,500 kg cherries per year. The constantly changing coffee market and a long incubation period have had their own bearing on the coffee production. Small volumes from several producers also challenge the quality of the coffee produced.
Kumud and Rabindra, the two strong willed entrepreneurs set out to achieve what was previously never attempted in Nepal – Making coffee a primary and profitable farming venture. The Company’s ambitious mandate of aiming for the unconventional caught the attention of ICCO Investments. Guided by the ‘profit first’ principle and concurrently maximizing the social impact, ICCO Investments decided to back the promising venture of Alpine Coffee.
Supported by ICCO Investments, Alpine Coffee worked on the production and supply side of the coffee value chain. The investment was used to upgrade process techniques from harvesting cherries to roasted beans, increase procurement of green beans from other farms, market development and investment implementation. The investment will also be used to increase the production and sales capacity of Alpine’s coffee and to convert outstanding personal loans from the founders. The production of coffee aimed to offer farmers a sustainable income as Alpine served as a missing link to the marketplace.
"Coffee, if you compare with other crops is more profitable,” said Shiv Prasad, a 49 year old farmer. “I used to invest time in planting food crops but I had to eat most of that harvest. Now I work at the Alpine Coffee farm, I get cash that I can use for different household expenses and I get knowledge on coffee farming as well”. Like Shiv Prasad, Alpine Coffee Estate has provided employment to 25 local workers and the change in their lives is visible. However, the process of change does not end here. Their families and surrounding families are encouraged to join Nuwakot Cooperative, a coffee processing unit. Their capacities are also being built on efficient and sustainable coffee farming methods.
Since the commencement of the Alpine Coffee venture, seven local families have earned NPR 300,000 (€ 2.8 K) as an additional income through trading with Alpine coffee. This has remarkably facilitated their vertical mobility out of the base of the pyramid. “We are small farmers and did not have sufficient land for coffee cultivation. Through Alpine Coffee, I have learnt how profitable coffee farming could be. This year onwards I am going to plant double the number of coffee crops in my land. Coffee has given us hope that life can get better” said Krishna, a beneficiary of the Alpine initiative.
The company plans on increasing their farms to a different area. This new expansion would be in a much larger area as compared to what the company is doing now. The idea is to start a full commercial plantation. The company believes it would definitely help the farmers in terms of knowledge transfer and easy access to markets. Other aspects of employment and environment will follow.