This was the first of the Indian small tea projects that we visited in March 2013 and is demonstrative of both the benefits and the potential setbacks of the small farm approach that make it all the more important for tea companies to support these kinds of projects. The Sahyadri Co-Operative was started in 2001 near the hill station of Peermade, a 4 hour drive east of Kochin and south of the more famous tea producing area of Munnar. The project started when the local Catholic diocese helped set up a factory to let the small farmers in the area process their own leaf, helping them bypass selling it to bought leaf factories and guaranteeing them a 30-70% premium on top of the regular market rate.
With the help of the local NGO Peermade Development Society (PDS) Sahyadri managed to convince more and more farmers in the area (including some remote tribal settlements) to join the co-op, with project co-ordinators such as Paul Mathew (pictured below) teaching them organic farming methods and how to make better quality tea in the process. Unfortunately a combination of droughts and falling market prices in the area have meant many farmers had to leave the tea co-op in recent years although this is now slowly improving. It is therefore vital for us to support Sahyadri and promote the small tea model that we believe is better for both the land and farmers.
Sahyadri also has a thriving spice co-op that processes spices from farmers in the area so we hope to eventually blend a chai that combines both the tea and spices from these small farms.