Jun 15, 2009
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Coffee is an EVERGREEN perennial plant and has a curious origin in India. In the 17th century, saint Baba Budan, planted seven coffee seeds on the elevated hills of Baba Budan in Chickmagalore District of Karnataka (India). Thus coffee growing took its birth in the enchanting hills of Bababudan. There after Europeans, systematically introduced Plantations in India, in the 18th century.
Mr. Thomas Cannon established in 1830 the first coffee estate in Mysore Raj, at Balur again in chickmagalore. In Munzerabad, (Sakleshpur Taluk) coffee was introduced for the first time in 1843 by Frederic Green in Igoor and thereafter in 1857 by Mr. Elliot in a place called Barchinahalla - Hanbal. The Plantations of today are indeed the best memorials to such of those Europeans who pioneered the early coffee growing, in spite of many hardships.
India has been home to coffee for almost 200 years and has always been and still remains shade grown. However, with the winds of globalization and liberalization reaching the Indian shores, Forest grown Indian coffee is making inroads in the West as a specialty coffee. The coffee grown under the shade of forest trees has a unique taste of nature in the cupping quality. Coffee grown along multiple, and mixed cropping systems like Pepper, cardamom, Areca nut, Ginger, Citrus, Vanilla and a few other spices, imparts an exceptional and distinct flavor.
There are three key ideas here. This uniqueness is not only the result of the forest factor but also due to the fact that the coffee habitats are an integral part of multicrops, herbs and spices. In addition, Indian coffee plantations harbor thousands of species of old diverse and significant species of rare birds, insects and endangered wildlife living in complete harmony. Nature lovers can appreciate the beauty and variety of trees by simply taking a walk inside the Shade grown Indian coffee Plantation.
The amazing fact is that coffee habitat and nature bring out the best chemistry in sustaining each other’s needs. Many foreigners who visit the plantation remark that Indian coffee plantation are wild life and Bird sanctuaries. Indeed, the architectural detail of the coffee forests is astounding.
These coffee ranges are home to wildlife sanctuaries, National parks, Tiger reserves, and biodiversity plantations. The Bandipur National park flanked by Nagarahole National park, Madhumalai wild life sanctuary and Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, together constitute the protected NILGIRI BIOSPHERE reserve, which is India’s first biosphere reserve. This reserve is a key breeding landscape for tigers, elephants, sambars, and other mega fauna distributed across the three states of Karnataka, Kerala and Chennai. Indian coffee is a proud partner of this biosphere reserve. In the literal sense the Indian coffee farmer has always been an asset to the Nation as well as to the global community by being a pro active nature conservationist first and secondly by growing earth friendly Indian coffee.
Three Canopy Layers
India is perhaps the only country in the world growing all its coffee under the canopy of a three tiered shade system. Shade grown coffee is not only environment friendly; it also has a host of other benefits. The tall evergreen trees build up a pool of organic nutrients beneficial for the growth and development of coffee. Most importantly, it reduces the need for external chemical inputs which creates imbalances in the forest ecosystem. Furthermore, the filtered sunlight enables the sugars in the coffee bean to caramelize uniformly and give it an inimitable taste.
This article is intended to be an eye-opener or a window to the world of coffee lovers worldwide in allowing them to appreciate the role of Indian coffee farmers in maintaining the fragile forest cover and its inhabitants. It provides an opportunity to observe the complexity of nature both on the forest floor and the coffee canopy. With the unique flora and fauna, the coffee mountain allows one to experience the sights, sounds, smells and life of the forest canopy.
A few decades back, the coffee landscape had changed for the worse, but a new awareness is catching up with the present generation in rectifying some of the past mistakes. Mistakes have been made, forests cut down when they could have been saved, wildlife, destroyed when they could have been preserved. However the new generations of coffee farmers are paying undivided attention into Aforestation programmes and conservation of wildlife.
Forest Cover in India
The forest survey of India states that the forest cover in the country is 63 million hectares, literally covering 19% of the geographical area of the country. More than 25 million hectares of this forest land is degraded resulting in barely 10% of the land under forests. The scientific truth spells out that for any country to maintain its ecological integrity, the forest cover should be at least 33%. In such a depressed scenario, the coffee planters in the country come to the rescue of the Governments by not only protecting forests but also converting barren hills into dense forests by planting millions of saplings. It is an established fact that coffee planters are largely responsible in stopping the dwindling of forest resources. Shade loving coffee farms often provide a safe haven for the biotic community. The State of Karnataka produces approximately 70% of India’s shade grown coffee. Karnataka ranks 18th in the Country in terms of forest cover with 19.3% of its land covered by forests. 70% of these biodiverse forests come under the Western Ghat range recognized world over as one among the 18 hotspots of the world.
The World Resources Institute has indicated that more than 80 per cent of the planet’s natural forests have already been destroyed. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 53,000 square miles of tropical forests were destroyed each year during the early 1980’s. Of this 21,000 square miles of tropical rainforests were deforested annually in South America, most of this in the Amazon basin. Forests air condition the planet and regulate its temperature. The Amazon forest act as the lungs of the earth. They inhale carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Matters of fact, these forests are prime generators of the earth’s oxygen.
The specter of Industrial growth catching up in rural towns is increasing dramatically and within a decade it will have a telling effect on the world’s natural resources which are already under threat. People need to know to know the value of what they are destroying. These environmental concerns have been expressed time and again by the United Nations but precious little has been done. Our goals should be reliable supplies of energy that are ecofriendly and affordable. First; we should recognize that even as forests become scarce, other fossil fuels like tar and shale will remain plentiful for centuries. This fact will ease the pressure on existing forests.
Rare species of butterfly, crocodile, elephant tusks, rhino horn etc are trophies that are exhibited in affluent houses. Under our very own eyes, our entire ecosystem is changing. Man’s unbridled greed has resulted in accelerating deforestation. There may not be enough land left for the survival of wildlife, leave alone forests. In the coming months we need to take stalk of old challenges and gear ourselves to face new challenges. Just as we speak about global peace, we also need to make peace with mother earth’s flora and fauna.
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