Being a sole bread earner for the family was something she was forced into right after her husband’ death. She was 44 and had three children to take care of. Eight years after her husband’s death, she finally got hold of his property in 1963, The Koorenpara Estate, 40-acres of parched land with coffee crops.
Sosamma Mathen, 89-year-old owner of Koorenpara coffee estate spread over 65-acre in Idukki, and 120-acre Mavadi estate, has made her place in an aggressively male dominated industry of owning coffee plantation business.
From making so much out of nothing, Sosamma has come a long way. Today, she is responsible for the lives of 60 families and earns an income which is unprintable.
Over the years, she has accepted to view the world with one eye because of a failed root canal surgery. She believes that being a 36-year-old widow is worse than being a one-eyed nonagenarian woman planter.
Treasure out of nothing
At the age of 44, when Sosamma finally got her husband’s property, she had no choice but to take care of the coffee plantation to run the family.
She would take the 5 am-bus and then travel for five hours to reach the property. With only two labourers to take care of the crops and yield them, Sosamma did everything to maintain the property and survive.
She would have lunch under the shade of the only tree in the property. After working for the entire day, she would take the last bus home. That was her life for years.
In the first year, Sosamma made seven tonnes of raw coffee and sold it at the auctions by the Coffee Board. However, she did not earn anything from that yield, as she was burdened with debts. Over the years, she had borrowed huge amounts from her siblings for her children’s education and to run the family. Her eldest son had just finished his medical degree, her daughter was in business school, and the youngest one was in a boarding school.
The result of hard work
In the second year, the yield was 14 tonnes and Sosamma managed to break even. She worked hard for years, and finally after four years, she reached the target, getting one tonne per acre, making 40 tonnes of yield.
In a decade, Sosamma’s life changed. The Koorenpara Estate was transformed into a full-fledged coffee plantation with 100 percent yield. She finally made a two-bedroom bungalow. From having just two laborers, she had a team of a supervisor, a watchman, and eight permanent workers.
After a few years, in 1995, Sosamma and her three children invested equally in 110 acres in Mavadi. She finally bought her first jeep and bid good bye to her 5 am bus.
I was okay with the bus. But my eldest was an emergency medicine doctor in the U.S. and my youngest was a neurophysician in private practice in Kochi. How do you explain the merits of spartan living to them?
However, her new property, The Mavadi estate, had to be done up from scratch, as it did not have even a bedroom or even a toilet. Sosamma planted five acres of land with coffee saplings. Every year, she would add five to ten acres to the cultivation.
Mavadi Estate, in the last 12 years, has increased by 70 acres, including 25 acres of cardamom intercropped with pepper and vanilla. Every day, Sosamma employs more than 60 daily-wage workers along with 20 permanent labourers, five supervisors, a superintendent, and a watchman. It also has a 5,000 sq ft storage shed and a drying yard.
Today, Sosamma is a proud owner of 65-acre Koorenpara coffee estate and 120-acre coffee-cardamom plantation in Mavadi. A huge bungalow is near completion. “My sons are very sure they cannot live the way I do on the estate. But I think it’s a waste of money,” says Sosamma.
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