Coffee In Koraput
The almost denuded slopes of the undulating low hills of Eastern Ghat hill range may present the onlooker with a specter no less beautiful than the fabled English country side. The less steep slopes blanketed with various crops like niger, raagi, paddy, lentils etc. depending on the season. Large trees like Mango, Banyan, Fig, Mahua, Semul and perhaps a stray Sal dot the landscape. Here and there crop up tissue cultured eucalyptus plantations and break the monotony of smaller crops. The landscape exhibits a unique array of colour with each passing season. The steep hill slopes which are spared from podu cultivation host scrub forest of mixed variety where trees are not very big. A careful look at the satellite map of Podagad and Kakrigumma area of Koraput will reveal patches of dark greenery in the otherwise barren looking carpet of brown. Some of these are remaining pockets of dense forests and the others are the painstaking effort of some of the entrepreneur who have taken up cultivation of shade grown coffee with pepper. The tall and straight growing silver oak trees host the pepper creeper, afford the much need shade for the coffee bushes and more importantly add up to the green cover of the area.
History of coffee in Koraput district can be traced back to the times of Maharaja Ram Chandra Deo of Jeypore who had set up silviculture stations to take up cultivation of coffee plants on an experimental basis near present day Mohulbhata village and Peta ghat. The experiment was successful to some extent as well. The erstwhile ruler had foreseen the suitability of Koraput climate for rearing of coffee plants. Though the real head way was made post independence when soil conservation department of government of Odisha, to mitigate soil erosion, decided to take up large scale plantation of coffee in the catchment area of Machkund reservoir. Further some private entrepreneurs from within and outside state acquired land and started cultivation of coffee with pepper in Kasipur, Dasmantpur, Kakrigumma, Podagada , Pottangi area as a cash crop. These areas being located on the 900 mtr plateau of Eastern Ghat mountain range offer suitable climate for coffee rearing.
In 1970s and 1980s nearly 200 aspiring planters raised coffee plantations in different areas of Koraput district to reap the benefits of the conducive climate. Coffee Board of India set up a research station near Koraput town to promote, develop and assist agronomy of coffee in the district. And thirty years later only 10-20 planters have been able to carry through.
Absence of any market linkages, labour shortage, increased labour cost, lack of any support or stimuli from state government has forced many of the planters either to abandon the cultivation or move on to other agronomy. However steadily high demand of coffee and pepper in international markets at present has made cultivation of these commodities a more lucrative proposition than ever before. Traditional areas of Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala where coffee had been grown over the years have been facing problems in plenty which include high labour costs, pest/diseases like berry borer and coffee rust, unavailability of new land for expansion etc.
Sri Susanto Panda, a planter from Jeypore, has persevered hard to tide over the lean period and has established himself as one of the successful coffee planters of the district. He ventured into the business of coffee in the year 1997, quite late compared to other planters of the district. With sustained effort and his conviction he has succeeded in reaping good profit. From among the two variety of coffee that is grown in Indian sub-continent viz Arabica and Robusta Sri Panda grows the former at his 30 acres plantation near Rajuguda village in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district.
He opines “Climate, soil condition, rainfall etc. are very conducive for coffee in Koraput district. With a little hard work, dedication and sustained effort one can get good profit from coffee and black pepper. When I started I had very little access to information and technology related to the crop but now everything is so readily available. However for any agricultural success story some push and support from government is very much necessary in the form of technical know-how, financial aid and market linkage etc.”
“For the overall development of our region coffee cultivation can be an effective tool. Being labour intensive it provides employment to poor tribal folks. The shade and host trees increase the green cover and check soil erosion. Coffee plantations also act as a safe heaven for the biodiversity of the region if environment friendly practices are adopted.” says the 45 years old agriculturist.
Importers of coffee from Europe are looking up to non-traditional area such as Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for better quality coffee beans as the beans produced in these areas have not been affected by berry borer or other such disease. But the production from Odisha is not sufficient to carve a niche for itself in the international market. Ruing the lackadaisical attitude of the state he says “Government of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state is vigorously promoting the coffee from Paderu and Araku area internationally and have targeted to increase area under coffee cultivation by upto 1.5 Lakh hectare where as due to lack of any encouragement from state government the area under coffee is gradually decreasing in Odisha.”