Jawaid Akhtar was named chairman of the Coffee Board of India in May 2010, replacing G.V. Krishna Rau. During his five years of service coffee has grown in popularity and importance to the domestic market. Akhtar has championed many projects including the expansion of coffee areas, development of new coffee cultivars, mechanization of coffee farm operations, sophisticated training on coffee quality and entrepreneurship while popularizing specialty coffee shops and the role of baristas.
STiR: The expansion of Coffee Day, Lavazza, and the Tata Global Beverage-Starbucks alliance has led to fast-growth of coffee retail in select urban areas, extending the availability of prepared coffee outside the traditional south India cities, such as Bangalore and Coimbatore. Describe how coffee is taking off in India.
Chairman Akhtar: Coffee, as a beverage, is breaking geographical barriers in India and making inroads into non-traditional areas of coffee consumption. Coffee consumption is no longer confined to southern states. The beverage has transitioned as an aspirational drink for India’s young upwardly mobile population. The potential in the domestic market is apparent with high levels of investment by a number of domestic and international coffee chains in the Indian coffee sector especially in non-south regions. As northern India has a higher percentage of occasional – as opposed to daily drinkers than the south, the region is believed to have the greatest growth potential which could be served by new cafes, kiosks and other coffee retailing formats.
STiR: India is major supplier of both robusta and arabica coffee. Will you describe in brief the demand for export, and is demand increasing in both cultivars? Where are these coffees destined?
Chairman Akhtar: India has evolved as a reliable producer and supplier of both high quality arabica and robusta coffees. Both arabica and robusta coffees (green beans) have retained a growing demand from major coffee consuming countries especially EU countries such as Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Indian coffee’s visibility is also increasing in high-value markets such as U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, CIS, and the Middle East countries with the Indian coffees fetching a fairly good premium therein. While Indian washed arabicas are appreciated for their mildness, sweet characteristics and a balanced acidity, Indian washed robustas are particularly sought for their good body and softness which are desirable characteristics to prepare roast and ground as well as espresso blends. Also, Indian soluble coffee is preferred by Russia and the CIS countries. In recent years, significant volumes of soluble coffee are also being exported to Turkey.
STiR: Given the growing demand within India’s domestic market, will you estimate the export capacity for arabica, How much is production growing?
Chairman Akhtar: Since 2010-11, India’s annual coffee production has consistently exceeded 5 million bags (60 kg bags) with growth in robusta output higher than arabica. The growth in production has been possible due to the adoption of better production practices and expansion of coffee-growing areas in nontraditional areas and the north-eastern region wherein Arabica cultivation is being taken up. While domestic coffee consumption in India is growing, most of India’s domestic coffee consumption is soluble coffee which is produced using a liberal proportion of robustas (primarily due to cost considerations and the taste preferences of the consumers). Considering the growth in arabica production (due to expansion in area under arabica) and domestic consumption patterns, we are confident to meet the export demand of Indian arabicas in the medium term. The country is increasing its production to meet domestic coffee demand, while increasing quantities of both coffees that are available for the export market.
STiR: Coffee consumption is still largely soluble, vs ground roast and whole bean. Describe the thriving soluble coffee market of India. How fast it is growing and where it is concentrated.
Chairman Akhtar: It is estimated that soluble coffee currently constitutes about 57% of Indian domestic consumption. The per-capita consumption of soluble coffee is higher in the non-south regions while demand for ground roast and whole beans is dominant in the traditional coffee consuming states of south India. The soluble coffee market in India has been growing, with the growth being triggered by the domestic and multinational producers and marketers of soluble coffee. A wide range of soluble coffees (pure and French) are available to meet the demands of distinct Indian consumer segments. However, considering the stage at which India lies on the coffee consumption trajectory, it is expected that, during the next few years, the growth rates for ground roast coffees could exceed that of soluble coffee due to the emergence of discerning consumers who are able to appreciate the nuances of freshly ground roast coffee. This trend has already commenced with the growing sales of home coffee brewing equipment including coffee from capsules and pods.
STiR: Coffee preparation is taking on new forms as well, with baristas competing in contests serving espresso drinks, latte art, and signature drinks. The Coffee Board is involved in sponsoring events to train the next generation of coffee professionals. Tell our readers about these programs.
Chairman Akhtar: The Coffee Board has actively contributed to the growth of the domestic coffee segment by conducting training programs for capacity building of stakeholders and entrepreneurs in roasting and brewing of coffee. Here are some examples:
- Kaapi Shastra Training Program: A five-day intensive program which focuses on hands-on learning on coffee quality and processing;
- Post Graduate Diploma in Coffee Quality Management: A one-year program that prepares young professionals for technical careers in the coffee industry;
- Coffee Board established a ‘Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ at the Indian Institute of Plantation Management (IIPM), Bangalore to facilitate entrepreneurship development in the coffee sector. This center has launched a “Professional Certificate Programme in Coffee Entrepreneurship” and “Reach out Program in Coffee Entrepreneurship”, with the programs being held across the country. These programs are designed to impart essential skills and share crucial information with potential and nascent coffee entrepreneurs.
- Considering the rapid growth of coffee shops in the country and the evolving demand for well-trained baristas, the Coffee Board has developed a “Barista Training Program” to impart training in barista-related skills;
- The Coffee Board also regularly organizes events, competitions, and programs that enable exchange of information, imparting of skills and networking of coffee entrepreneurs.
STiR: Demand for organic, ecologically sustainable, and coffee grown with minimum chemical inputs is on the rise. Tell us about initiatives that encourage the conservation and healthy cultivation of coffee. Are the number of organic certified, rainforest alliance certified, and bio-dynamic certifications on the rise at coffee plantations?
Chairman Akhtar: Indian coffee is shade-grown with most of the coffee being produced in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats. The Indian coffee production systems are eco-friendly with most growers producing coffees without the use of harmful pesticides. The Coffee Board has been implementing programs to promote the production of ecofriendly coffees. The Board has been providing financial and technical assistance to coffee growers to produce certified coffees under certification programs that have a strong component of environmental sustainability e.g. organic coffee and rainforest alliance. The Board’s interventions and the private sector’s active participation have resulted in a distinct increase in the production of sustainable coffees in India. It is estimated that about 15% of the coffee that is produced in India is certified under at least one program. However, the production of organic certified coffee has not shown a marked rise due to the ‘under conversion’ periods and the need for buffer zones.
STiR: Describe the development of India’s coffee small growers. Much of the national production continues on small parcels scattered across the country. Will you describe some smallholder programs to improve quality and how their coffee is reaching the market?
Chairman Akhtar: Coffee cultivation in India is undertaken primarily as a family-based enterprise. Of about 291,000 coffee farms in the country, 99% are less than 25 acres (10 ha) in size. Apart from providing technical support that is suitable for small farms, the Coffee Board extends development support to accelerate cultivation and processing activities such as replantation, water augmentation, upgrade in quality, mechanization, etc. to improve production, productivity, and the quality of coffee produced in the country. The Coffee Board’s r&d initiatives and development support schemes focus on increasing the competitiveness of Indian small coffee growers by initiating quality improvement programs and setting off transaction costs. Recognizing the increasing presence of sustainable coffee in global markets, the Board has recently launched a program to support small growers’ collectives to get certified under various certification programs. The Board has initiated a program to enable groups of small growers to procure ecological washing units. The Board is also incentivizing small growers to sell their coffees at auctions and select commodity exchanges.
STiR: Coffee harvests are under some stress as the climate undergoes changes. Tell our readers about programs to support research and develop new strains of coffee that is resistant to fungal and other plant diseases.
Chairman Akhtar: Through constant and innovative r&d efforts, the Coffee Board has released 13 improved disease-tolerant arabica varieties. The recently-released Chandragiri variety has high resistance to leaf rust, productivity potential of 1,500-1,800kg/hectare with a high percentage of bold beans and fair average quality. In addition, three promising arabica lines with higher resistance to pests and diseases are ready for multi-location trials. The Board also released three improved varieties of robusta with four drought-tolerant lines of robusta under field evaluation. The C x R variety is renowned for its superior quality.
The Board has developed best practices covering all aspects of scientific coffee cultivation such as nursery management, bush management, integrated nutrient management (INM), integrated pest and disease management, sprinkler irrigation, soil fertility-based nutrient recommendations. These practices are disseminated to the growers by the extension officers of the board who interact with growers at the farm level.