She calls herself an accidental entrepreneur. Meet Arshiya Urveeja Bose, an environmental conservationist by training and proprietor of Black Baza Coffee Company by chance.
For her, coffee has become the means to look at conservation from a social as well as environmental perspective. The work she does is interesting – she has currently engaged with four coffee estate owners in the district of Kodagu and signed ‘conditional conservation agreements’ with them. The conditions she lays down are fairly simple – follow environment-friendly best practices and Black Baza would market your coffee in the commercial market.
A Masters in Environment Development, Arshiya pursued her PhD in Sustainable Coffee Production, both from Cambridge University. “It was during my PhD days that I engaged with the local communities a lot and my interest thereafter has always been to engage with communities to do conservation work,” explains Arshiya sipping a cup of coffee.
With most people being coffee lovers in India, it was easy to pick up coffee and pass on a loud message – ‘be responsible coffee-drinkers’.
The Baza is a small bird of prey found in the forests of South and South East Asia. Bazas are most commonly seen in dense forests perched high in the tree canopy. Sightings of Black Bazas in coffee farms would thereby indicate the farms are forest-like and that indeed is the brand Black Baza coffee’s dream.
The company does spend a great deal of effort to calculate the impact of following sustainable practices on the environment.
Hand in hand with nature
Coffee production in India has a very unique history but is becoming increasingly unsustainable in terms of its impact on the environment. “Our enterprise aims to incentivise sustainable farming through the company. Black Baza is the only social entrepreneurship project on coffee in India and perhaps one of the few such projects globally as well!”
“We are engaging with local farmers on one hand and on the other hand bringing it to the tables of the urban coffee drinker, that way we are looking at both sides of the value chain and connecting it. At the end, the aim is to ensure 250-300 acres of priority area of good farming,” says Arshiya adding that they intend to expand to 10-15 such coffee farms in the next one year. Though they signed conditional agreements with the farmers in 2013 itself, they started selling coffee under this brand name from September last year.
Some green clauses to partner with Black Baza
The coffee farmer must value biodiversity. This means farms keep a high diversity of forest trees, protect water sources, reduce chemical inputs, restore wildlife habitats and enhance coffee quality.
The company currently promotes coffee under three names – the Black Baza Roast, Aspire to Otter and Luna Roast.
The names have interesting connotations. Otters are ambassadors of freshwater ecosystems. Social animals, they have of late been affected by increased instances of poaching, pollution and sand-mining. Their habitats too are being encroached upon and converted. So by safeguarding river stretches alongside coffee farms, otters can be brought back.
The Luna or Indian Moon Moth is one of the largest moths in India. Known to be prolific silk-producers, they have become endangered of late. Following best farming practices is sure to drive them back to the coffee farms and that’s what the company aims at doing.
“Apart from economic returns by selling coffee, it is the recognition that the coffee farmers get that is the bigger incentive which drives them. All the coffee packets have history of the coffee farms from where it is being procured alongside the nature-friendly practices it has adopted and the name of the owner, this social recognition is their bigger reward,” says 32-year-old Arshiya.
A great learning experience
Arshiya was always interested in bringing about change and understood fairly early that pure academic research wasn’t really enough to get the change in place. In her growing up years, Arshiya saw her parents believe in an idea and walk that extra mile to be that change. “There was an oversupply of inspiration of sorts and that helped me a lot in the formative years,” says Arshiya on a lighter note.
Apart from selling through prominent retail stores, Black Baza coffee company does a lot of cup-tasting, coffee tasting events as well.
“The larger aim is to advocate a lifestyle change when people at the breakfast table know that the coffee comes from a farm which has adopted sustainable practices and is causing minimum or no damage to the environment,” says Arshiya.
A Roger Federer fan
Arshiya is a self-confessed Roger Federer fan. She admits that she plays the game but also laments the fact that entrepreneurship is a full time job and there is very little time on hand to pursue her passion.
Nature documentary maker David Attenborough too inspires young Arshiya. “He communicated Nature through documentaries to people like no one else has ever done. It is simply amazing,” signs off this green entrepreneur.