Here I sit in the kitchen of my home for the next month in Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh, India. I am listening to the variety of noises streaming in through the open doors and windows of our second floor perch. Roosters crowing, birds chirping, children yelling and laughing, music playing. Today’s headlines in the newspapers laud the arrival of monsoon season, exclaiming “Monsoon Sets In Both Telugu States Andhra Pradesh After Days Of Delay, Brings Respite”. Rain is pattering down outside, beckoning in cool breezes that circulate through the kitchen and, accurately enough, bring respite from the punishing heat that hung over the valley upon our arrival three days ago. I woke up to heavy rainfall around seven this morning and now, ten o’clock, it’s falling gently, misting the roofs, still steady, the occasional burst of thunder sounding through the clouds that hang over the surrounding mountain tops.
As of today, it has been exactly one week since I landed in India, a long and truly arduous journey: a flight over the North Pole to Guangzhou, China, there, a six-hour layover, then, another six hours spent flying to New Delhi. Still, however tiring and trying that journey might have been, I simultaneously cannot help but acknowledge how revolutionary it is that I have the ability and privilege to make the trip in the first place. We’re so continuously immersed in the advanced technology of our modern lives that we often fail to recognize that we are living in a revolutionary time. The fact that I can purchase a plane ticket online by typing in a web address and within two days be miles up in the air traveling at rapid speed to my desired location is an ability that few generations before me possessed. On the flip side of that coin, as the primary effects of climate change begin to unravel and affect the future accessibility of commercial aviation, I view now as the most opportune time to take full advantage of my revolutionary capability to travel. And thus, here I am in the most remote and inaccessible location I could have possibly imagined, all in an effort to see as most of the world as I possibly can in the time allotted to me.
Speaking of modern technology, the extent of its presence in the tiny village of Araku Valley is incredible. I’m typing this blog post on Google Docs using high-speed wifi. Nearly every house in the village has electricity, a television, a car or motorcycle, a telephone. Teenagers roam the village streets looking down at their iPhones, texting, calling, Snapchatting, Instagramming (one girl even asked to take a selfie with me). There’s an HD satellite dish atop the tiny little hut of my next door neighbor’s house. In my college courses, I learn that, due to globalization, the world is more connected than it has ever been in the history of mankind; this is what they are really talking about. Even the most remote corner of rural India is interconnected with the ebb and flow of global life.
The sun is out now and the clouds have retreated so that they crown the peaks of the rolling mountains for miles off into the distance. Patches of blue sky reveal sunlight and it’s beaming down into the valley. The neighborhood kids are beginning to emerge from wherever the rain chased them away to and jump into the freshly formed puddles. My supervisors at the Naandi Foundation tell me that the rains are shorter now, because of climate change, but much more severe. It comes down in bucketloads, often damaging the crops and flooding the valley, sometimes even ruining a harvest. Unlike the majority of the western world, the people who live here are acutely aware of the rising temperatures and increasingly unpredictable weather. All of our lives, no matter who we are or where we live, are intertwined with the health of the natural world, but here the effects of climate change will even more deeply affect every community and has the potential to destroy individual livelihoods.
Before I sign off, I’ll briefly describe the work I am doing this summer since it’s a question I often receive. The Naandi Foundation has been operating in the Araku Valley since the late 1990s when it first began to partner with indigenous tribal farmers all throughout the region. At this time, many farmers were attempting to grow coffee and sell at local markets to earn incomes above subsistence level; unfortunately to no avail. The coffee yields were poor, middle men swooped in and bought it all for prices well below market level, and the frequently–utilized slash and burn agricultural techniques depleted the soil of their farmland. Naandi identified these issues and responded by gradually retraining the farmers to use biodynamic farming practices which improved yields and protected their natural resources. Over time, the organization built up the trust of the farmers and their communities and expanded their project further, this time to cut out the middle men completely. To achieve this, Naandi began to buy the coffee directly from the farmers and introduced it to international markets, resulting in steady, high prices for the farmers.
Ok, so this is where Sophie and I come in. Our project this summer is to travel, at a minimum, to twenty villages in the Araku region and prepare, conduct and record interviews with the tribal communities. Using our footage, recordings and photographs, we will produce a collection of one–minute videos that personify the farmers and will be used to market the coffee that this farmers grow. The Araku Valley coffee project is just beginning to take off and change the lives of the tribal communities for the better and more people than ever, around the world, are able to taste the result of these farmers’ hard work and pride.