The couch in Kerala

We now try to visit our friends and partners in India two times a year. What a privilege it is. This november trip kicked off in Wayanad, Kerala. I had a the opportunity to discuss our progress and challenges in the Benelux market. The more I come to see Father John and his team at the Biowin factory in the Wayanad hills, the more I feel at home. It comes down to couch debates where we try to learn from each other's experience. They have the challenge to produce the required quality of freeze-dried fruits, Adya faces the obvious marketing challenges as a starter with a (excuse me, freeze dried?) new product. 

When we come out of the couch there is still time to visit the farmers or specific ongoing activities for the farmers, run by the cooperative professionals. It was great to be present at a seminar on organic hormones (fruit pulp composition) and organic weed controllers (small fish remains in pulp). Easily 40 farmers, mostly men but also women, showed up and listened very carefully to the young Ms. Reeba. Our friends then introduced us to 4 farmers families in the neighbourhood. Great to get so close to them and see how proud they are.

This is why we trust in Wayanad social service society. It has grown into a major social actor for the smallholders in struggle for survival and indirectly contributes in the regional social welfare. 

I share some of the pictures to visualise the beauty of the region, the Wayanad professionals and the farmers at home. Somehow I always arrive too late or too early for the fruit processing. So I promise you for a next article on Wayanad to share some pictures on our fruits.

Nature has her own timing. I can live with it.

I will start calling the challenges we face 'natural challenges'.

 

 

 

Welcome to the jackfruit

Once you've seen the jackfruit, you never forget it. It's the biggest tree fruit in the world and it has a very peculiar shape. Chubby, stitchy and not attractive like so many other fruits. Why did we fall for the fruit to be added to our freeze-dried Adya fruits.

It was Mr. Sandeep, manager at Wayanad Social Service Society in Kerala, who told us during the Biofach trade show in 2015:

It just falls from our trees, we have so much jackfruit and nothing is done with it.
— Sandeep Kumar, Wayanad SSS

 

It was a first hint. If our local experts call for action, we can at least try to do something. What we needed to discover is whether jackfruit would work in freeze dried form. Especially for jack fruit it would be great to discard the fruit rests for local recycling (easily 10 kilo per fruit). Could we work with the essential fruit parts?

The cooperative did all the necessary tests and now in 2017 sent some samples to taste. It's small strips from the jackfruit interior. It definitely gives another taste and aroma then our other Adya fruits. With its odour the jackfruit announces that it's ready to be eaten. We clearly have a fruit boarded with vitamins and minerals. It also contains proteins, which has made it pretty popular as a meat replacement in several dishes (seen in the UK on food fairs). 

What do we like from our perspective? 

We act on a fruit that is available. We don't pack boxes with the whole fruit, that would be impossible. The cooperative processes the edible parts into small pieces and packs it in snack portions. Jackfruit has its say in our search for maintaining  global biodiversity. It adds so much to our palate. It does so for the Indian people.

Jackfruit falling from the Indian trees shouldn't go to waste. Indian initiatives picked up this sad waste story before, we now have our small contribution in it. 

We invite you to join usin embracing the giant jackfruit and try it out at home. Follow us for more news on the arrival of the jackfruit.

Jackfruit_Bangladesh_3.jpg

 

 

The monsoon and the bananas

We just received news from our partner Wayanad social service society. The freeze-drying of the Poovan bananas failed due to too much rain during the Monsoon (the early summer Monsoon in June). The plants got more rain then usual and didn't give banana fruits as expected. 

We mentioned the importance of the Monsoon for the food production in South-India before (see blog last year). Climate change is also happening here. Studies show a increase in Monsoon rainfall and in land temperature all the same. So due to the global warming and its effects on the land and the agriculture, crops also can change in quantity and quality. 

Two things are happening here.  

We get the decision from our partner in India and learn about their report and conclusion. They worry about quality and issues on our market. That is so much more important then the fact that we will be out of freeze-dried bananas for a few months. Yes, it is part of the natural game. This should be something natural instead of something hampering business and challenging partnerships.

What just happened is part of what Adya wants to achieve. Get this connection with the Indian agricultural community, allbeit far away and vague. It's tremendously important to pass on a message to people that are used to buy bananas in their grocery store or supermarket. 

 

The message is that it is not evident to have bananas in our stores every day. There is a great pile of bananas coming from mass plantations in bad shape. There is a much smaller part of the amount coming from sustainable and humane approach, demanding dedication and expertise
— Karl Vanderplaetse

The wheather now also affects more and more the crop quality. Our question to the cooperative now is how they agree on deliveries, quality and price with their members or other delivery partners that have to deal with a bad harvest. 

This all gives us more transparant information and a more detailed insight in the fairness we all want to see.

Mananthavady shop, Kerala, India

Mananthavady shop, Kerala, India

The road to Nam Ai

A small village called Nam Ai was our last stop in Ha Giang, Vietnam. Driving trough a postcard landscape in between rice paddies, water buffalo's and tea trees we found our new homestay. One we will never forget.

We are here to meet the Red Dao people. they are one of the over 50 etnic people in Vietnam. They mostly live in the Ha Giang region and up there in the mountains have specialized in rice paddies and Shan tea trees. It's the tea we're here for. As we decided to start a partnership with the Red Dao cooperative (it is called Fin Ho after one of the central tea villages), we felt the need to go out and see how the Red Dao manage their tea business...

The trip to the Red Dao villages and their tea plantations was organized with the Hanoi based Center for Rural Economic Development (CRED). They invest in local training and also provide visitors with guidance and translators. The visit opened our eyes. Visiting the communities made clear that cultivating tea is not easy at all. The tea trees are growing uphill. The acres each family owns are spread out over the hills. Sometimes the tea pickers have to walk for miles to reach their trees. They also cannot fill more than one basket of leaves a time. The roads to the cooperative factory are often muddy and bumpy. Only decent motorbikes can master these roads. Still, these conditions worry us but do not seem to stress our Red Dao friends. They're used to it, even when in summertime the roads are flooded and sometimes washed away.

We asked the CRED colleagues what we could do for the community. While we thought of a project for children they advised us to participate in a new motorbike road connection to the Nam Ai village. The Long Dressed Dao people there also bring in tea to the Fin Ho cooperative and have problems with their connection. This is the good thing. We didn't insist to have it our way, we followed the advise coming from the CRED and the feedback from the communities. This is a true partnership. 

This is where Adya at the end of the trip to the Dao communities was in the mud dragging sand bags uphill. Where we saw all villagers participate with their material. Men and women, old and young. Coaching each others and moving on really fast. The mud turned into a small road in a few hours time. It will take them 7 days for 1 kilometer.

We left Nam Ai village that morning driving next to a part of the new road. A road seems to be so evident in the West, but here it isn't. This small contribution from Adya and CRED is indeed covering something fundamental, the connection from tea trees to cooperative, but also a better connection from kids to school, from home to work, and so much more.

We will come back to Nam Ai one day and drive over this kilometer of new concrete road and always remember our first stay here. 

We wish the villagers of Nam Ai and the beautiful Ha Giang region all the best. We will continue our efforts to introduce the Fin Ho tea to the public and keep all our followers posted on our projects in the field.