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Paliyan Coffee

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The Paliyans from a village in southern India who grow high-quality organic coffee for sale were recognized last Thursday with an article in a major Indian newspaper.

The mountains of Kodaikanal

The mountains of Kodaikanal (Photo by wishvam in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to the journalist who wrote the story, the Paliyan of Korankombu village, which is located in Kodaikanal Block, Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu, have been growing very high quality coffee using only their traditional methods of cultivation, without any chemicals. They have not been given any financial support from private or government sources, so they would not have been able to afford any fertilizers or pesticides even if they had wanted to use them.

Instead, they rely on their traditional farming methods for growing coffee in the forest reserve areas of their village. K. Raju, the journalist, quoted K. Murugan, a Paliyan farmer in Korankombu, who said that since they have no money to buy chemicals, they apply organic wastes and natural manure to their coffee plants. They make sure that the plants are growing in natural shade conditions in order to produce a better yield. And attacks by pests, at least this year, have been under control due to good rainfall.

A Paliyan man in 1909

A Paliyan man in 1909 (Photo in Edgar Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, 1909, vol. 5, following page 464, in the public domain)

Another Paliyan farmer, G. Sankar, told the journalist that they never pay for the labor needed to harvest the coffee on their plantations. Family members of the different farmers work on each others farms for free. Sankar told Raju, “‘Shram dhan’ is still in vogue among tribal planters for harvesting.” “Shram dhan” appears to mean, in this context, working selflessly to help others.

The coffee-growing Paliyans have not been visited by officials from the agricultural research centers in India. In fact, the only officials who have visited the village have been forestry and police people. But impressed by their hard work, the officers from the Forest Department are acting under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 to legalize the rights of the villagers to the forests they are using. Over 36 farming families in the village will benefit from that legal designation.

Coffee beans from Kodaikanal

Coffee beans from Kodaikanal (Photo by leliebloem on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

But legalizing their rights to their lands won’t bring fortunes to the people of Korankombu. Since they have virtually no contacts with the outside world, they have to depend on the owners of the large estates to sell their coffee. They can only sell their crops by giving their entire harvests to those owners and accepting whatever payments they deign to give them. And even to this day, Raju wrote, the only foods they are sure of obtaining are the tubers that they harvest themselves from the forests.

In his exhaustive book on the Paliyans, Gardner (2000) mentioned that the British began establishing coffee plantations in the Kodaikanal region in 1838, in areas inhabited by Paliyans. Coffee growing by the Paliyan themselves would thus appear to be a more recent development.

 

Kind Words for the Nubians

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A committee in Egypt, charged by President el-Sisi with totaling up the damages caused to Nubians when the Aswan High Dam destroyed their villages over 50 years ago, has completed its work. Egypt Today, a monthly magazine, posted an article last week reporting that the committee has listed the families involved that deserve some financial restitution and it has referred its recommendations on to the Egyptian cabinet.

A view of Lake Nasser from the site of the Abu Simbel temples

A view of Lake Nasser from the site of the Abu Simbel temples (Photo by HamYoyo in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The committee, headed by Hossam Abdel-Rahim, the Justice Minister, was formed after the National Youth Forum was held in January 2017 in the city of Aswan. One of the recommendations of the NYF for confronting the various issues that challenge the people of Upper Egypt was to deal with the claims of the Nubian people who lost their homes due to the formation of Lake Nasser in the 1960s. Many have never, despite promises, received any compensation.

According to the president, the choice of Aswan as the venue for that important national conference was a signal that the Nubian people have done a lot for their country and have made many sacrifices but they have not, as yet, received what they deserve from the government. The report from the committee also recommended that the city of Aswan be transformed into a cultural and economic capital for the rest of Africa through more investments in education, housing, transportation, and health needs.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Photo by the Kremlin in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

At the NYF conference in Aswan last year, President el-Sisi delivered the concluding address, saying about the local people, in part, “I’m fully aware that you didn’t get what you really deserve yet, and we realize what you all have been through during the past years. I appreciate your sacrifices and stamina. I assure to you all that Upper Egypt’s development and issues are on the top of our priorities, and that’s why we decided to choose Aswan for the conference.”

According to the magazine article, Nubian elders consider the president’s move to re-open the compensation issue “a positive step.” The president also said at the NYF conference, “Upper Egypt is on the government’s top priorities and I gave direct orders to work hard for improving the situation of the people at all levels.”

A Nubian man protesting on the Aswan to Abu Simbel highway, November 19, 2016 (Photo from the news blog Egyptian Chronicles, Creative Commons license)

A Nubian man protesting on the Aswan to Abu Simbel highway, November 19, 2016 (Photo from the news blog Egyptian Chronicles, Creative Commons license)

A skeptical reader may wonder how this development will affect the status of the Nubian activists and leaders who dared to demonstrate in Aswan for their various demands on September 3 and were promptly arrested by the police. They languished in prison for a while and were subsequently tried for their crime of challenging the policies of the Egyptian state. They were charged with such crimes as participating in a demonstration without official approval. The initial arrests of 24 demonstrators were subsequently augmented when 8 more people were charged with crimes, bringing the total to 32.

An Amnesty International news release on Feb.2 reported that the trial by the State Security Emergency Court of the 32 Nubians involved in the demonstration had been postponed on January 30 until February 27. The court is expected to impose sentences of up to five years in prison for the Nubian activists at the next court hearing. The Amnesty news page has a link to a more lengthy PDF report on the situation. It is not clear what relationship the impending sentencing of the activists may have, if any, with the nice words from the Egyptian president. Things may be clarified next week if the court hands down its sentences, as expected.

 




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