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Coffee Plantations in Wayanad

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The coffee production in Kerala accounts to about 28 % of the overall coffee production in South India which includes the three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The coffee production is mainly suited to grow in the hilly tracts of these states with Karnataka accounting to the majority of coffee production – a whopping 53% of a total production of 8200 tonnes (Year 2010 figures). The coffee production in Kerala is around 23 % of the country’s total coffee output which makes it the second largest coffee-producing state in India. Wayanad, a popular district in Kerala produces almost around 90 % of the state’s coffee produce which literally concludes that the coffee economy of Kerala is highly correlated with the coffee economy existing in Wayanad.

Our study plans to analyze and evaluate the agricultural farming practices adopted by the farmers in Wayanad, a district situated in the north-east of Kerala, and very popular for the coffee plantations and tea estates growing in this region. In this section, we will however be concentrating with the existing farming methods and the scope of natural farming in the area of coffee plantations. We will first discuss about the topography of Wayanad and how it suits to the growth of coffee on an extensive scale, followed by the existing farming practices of coffee and the contribution of NGO’s , co-operative societies and self help groups in educating the farmers about the modern eco-friendly methods of farming. Finally, we will analyze and evaluate the scope of natural farming in the area of growth of coffee plantations in Wayanad and how it will improve the value chain from the farmers’ perspective.

About Wayanad

Topography

Wayanad, the 12th district formed in Kerala, which is also called “The Land of Paddy Fields” is located in between the boundaries of the Kozhikode and Kannur districts. The region is located on the top of the majestic Western Ghats and its altitude range from approximately 700 meters to as high as 2100 meters. A large part of the region’s population comprises of the indigenous tribal communities. The region is full with densely populated high-standing hilly terrains, mountains (Chembra Peak), lakes (the beautiful Pookot Lake), waterfalls and dams (Banasura Sagar Dam) as an attractive location for tourists.

Climate

Wayanad being distant from the mean sea level and densely covered by forests provide a very pleasant climate. Typically the temperature variations are reported to be in the range of 18 to 28 degree centigrade. The average rainfall received in the region is around 2500 millimeters per year. As a result of a high extent of presence of both sunlight and rainfall, the agricultural land in this region is very fertile. Wayanad due to its extensive scope of agricultural farming has been reported to be holding a position amongst the 18 real agribiodiversity hotspots situated in the globe.

Rivers

Most of the Wayanad district is situated close to the river Kabini (an important tributary of the river Kaveri) along with its three tributaries namely, Panaraman, Kalindy and Mananthavady rivers. Dams such as the BanasuraSagar Dam and aqueducts have also been built in the region with the sole purpose of supplying water to the drought stricken regions in the district.

Economy

Speaking about the economy of Wayanad, majority of the region’s economy is based on agriculture as can be implied by the meager figure of 3.79 % of the district’s population being urbanized. The main cash crops growing in the region are coffee, tea, plantain, pepper, vanilla and cocoa. Apart from these crops, another important and essential cash crop growing in the Wayanad region is rice. Although there has been an agrarian crisis due to the increase in lower prices of the locally-grown cash crops such as coffee, ginger, pepper, etc. , yet it has been noted that there is an increasing trend in the price of agricultural land in Wayanad.

The geographical description of the territory covers a vast portion with agricultural land, roughly 54 % of the district’s area. Around 37% of the territory is covered up with densely populated forests. One of the main cash crops growing in the region apart from tea is coffee which has two main varieties of coffee plantations. Coffee Arabica, the premier coffee and Coffee Robusta, the low-quality coffee which well suits the environmental conditions originating in Wayanad are the two main varieties of coffee growing in this district. However, majority of the coffee growing in this region is of the robusta variety which accounts to approximately 95 % of the total coffee production in Wayanad. The capacity of land occupied by coffee plantations in terms of agricultural land area amounts to around 58 %, numerically around 110,000 hectares. It has been reported that around 80 % of the total coffee produced in Kerala comes from Wayanad.

Population

The population extent in Wayanad counts to roughly around 800,000 people with more than 80 % of the population being majorly dependent on agriculture. The majority of the coffee growers in Wayanad are small and marginal farmers which account to more than 90 % with more than 60 % of the land holders occupying less than one hectare of land. The average landholding size of a farmer in the district has been found to be approximately 0.68 hectares. As already discussed earlier, a large chunk of the Wayanad population consists of tribal communities with almost 17 % of the state’s tribes residing in Kerala. The tribal communities also have a significant role to play in agriculture.

Infrastructure

Wayanad passes through the Calicut, Mysore and Bangalore connectivity via road. The closest railway station and airport is situated in Calicut which is around 100 kms from Wayanad. With the advancement of technology and infrastructure services, the district has good network coverage and internet connectivity apart from a robust post office network and availability of courier services. Moreover, no power scarcity problems have been reported in the region.

Farming Methods of Coffee

In order to understand the farming methods of coffee adopted in different regions of Wayanad, we have conducted a personal interview with senior members of existing non-profit organizations (NGO’s) operating in that district. We have also performed a thorough literature research on the farming methods of coffee, the constraints faced by the farmers if any and the scope of natural farming given the existing constraints such as high cost of production, scarcity of skilled and unskilled labour, etc. The specific objectives we have tried to cover in this section include the following:-

Analysis of the coffee production costs and the revenue structure

Identifying the most significant determinants which impact coffee yield

Analyzing the relationship between farm-size holdings and the farm’s coffee output efficiency

Performing a comparative analysis of the evaluation of the labor-absorption capacity on coffee produce as compared to other cash crops (tea, rice) produce

Dependency of farming methods on the extent of fluctuation in coffee prices

Impact of climatic conditions on yield of coffee and scope of pests and coffee-related diseases and their impact on coffee productivity

Understand, analyze and evaluate the participation of regional institutional agencies such as the Regional Research Coffee station in Wayanad ( popularly known as the Coffee Board) and Krishibhavan on methods of coffee cultivation

Our study of coffee cultivation methods mainly spans around farmers originating from three different regions across Wayanad namely Sulthan Bathery, Nenmeni and Noolpuzha. Our reason for choice of these three gram panchayats is due to the majority of the farmers originating from these regions having coffee cultivation as their predominant cash crop and hence source of cultivation. Most of the coffee cultivation takes place in Noolpuzha among the three gram panchayats with 2900 hectares of land available for coffee plantations while around 1500 and 1200 hectares of land is available in Sulthan Bathery and Nenmeni respectively. As per the definition of a farmer by the Coffee Board in Wayanad, small and marginal farmers typically have a farm land of less than 5 acres i.e. two hectares whereas large farmers are holding huge coffee estates of land size more than 10 acres. The current division of farmers in Wayanad based on this classification suggests that roughly 90 % of farmers fall in the category of small and marginal farmers. The general method of harvesting coffee includes the following three steps in a sequential manner:-

Plucking the coffee seeds from the coffee gardens by using charged labour where natural farming techniques are more desirable. Use of pesticides and fertilizers is minimal.

Drying these seeds in the drying gardens for atleast 1 to 1.5 weeks where the coffee seeds are kept for drying under the sun.

Finally bagging of raw coffee is done after drying where the general standards practiced in Wayanad define one bag of coffee to contain around 54 kgs of coffee. Including the weight of the bag typically to be one kg, each bag of coffee weights around 55 kgs and this harvested coffee is then sold off to local traders at prices which are commensurate with the local coffee market existing in Wayanad.

Types of Coffee

There are mainly two varieties of coffee i.e. Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. During the mid nineteenth century (1825-1869), the mainly cultivated coffee variety was Arabica as it had more beverage value and hence fetched higher coffee prices in the domestic as well as international markets. However, this variety of coffee was more vulnerable to pests and diseases and eventually the large coffee estates producing this variety were left abandoned as the crops perished due to the threats prevailing from major pests existing in that period such as “white stem borer”, “leaf rust” and “green bug”. During the later half of the nineteenth century, the Robusta variety of coffee became more popular in Wayanad. One of the major reasons for shifting to this variety was that Robusta can withstand against threats arising from existing as well as new coffee-related pests and diseases. Currently, Robusta coffee produce is more than 95 % of the total coffee cultivation done in Wayanad. As an approach towards natural farming, the farmers generally grow coffee plantations under the shade of spice plantations mainly pepper so that the cash crop can be protected against pests and other diseases generated in the soil. However Arabica coffee which accounts for less than 3% of the total coffee produce in Kerala is also grown in hilly terrains mainly confined to the high altitude regions comprising the districts such as Kozhikode, Palakkad, Idukki and Kannur.

Cropping Pattern

The small and marginal farmers generally follow a mixed cropping pattern wherein coffee is produced along with other cash crops such as pepper, arecanut and banana. Some of the reasons for these farmers going for a mixed cropping pattern instead of mono cropping are:-

Livelihood: – Agricultural income being the only source of income for this section of farmers, land is the most precious asset they possess. However in recent years, it has been reported that due to a very high fluctuation of coffee prices in the markets, farmers have suffered from high financial losses by being solely dependent on only one cash crop i.e. coffee. Hence the farmers have decided to utilize their vacant land on other high priced cash crops such as pepper which would act as an alternative source of income for them. Moreover crops such as pepper and banana would provide shade to coffee plantations and act as a mode of natural farming methodologies adopted to protect against arising threats from existing as well as new pests and coffee related diseases.

As per the sources we interviewed, the fluctuations in coffee price last year i.e. in 2010 were controllable though, which was within the range Rs. 1900 to Rs. 2500 per kg of coffee. The harvesting period of coffee which generally starts in the month of December and is set to close in February is almost over and as per our sources; the average price of coffee in Wayanad is trading at Rs. 3000 per kg.

Farm size:- The farm size and land holdings being relatively smaller for marginal farmers as compared to large estate farmers makes it advantageous for them to adopt a mixed cropping fashion. This is because they don’t follow any systematic method of planting saplings in arrays which ensures that there is still enough scope of planting maximum plants per area due to the inadequate stocking method followed.

However, the conversion process is very difficult for large estate farmers because the area of land under mono-cropping is huge.

Labour availability:- The labour availability for small farmers is majorly in the form of domestic labour i.e. labour resources are the members of the family and mainly the cash crop cultivator who is the owner of the land. However, in case of large farm estates, the labour resources are typically the paid labours who are generally also the members of organized trade unions operating in Wayanad. Several cases have been reported of undying resistance from such trade union members against mixed cropping in large farm estates due to the fear of losing employment. As per one of the sources who is a member of the M.S. Swaminathan NGO operating in Wayanad, the labour charge for plucking coffee from coffee gardens is priced via two different pricing mechanisms.

Hourly basis charge wherein a labour typically charges around Rs. 150 – 200 per hour.

Plucking capacity basis wherein labour required for plucking per kg. of coffee is charged roughly Rs. 1.50 – 2.50.

However, labour charges vary from place to place in different regions of Wayanad.

The table represented below shows the recent numbers in variation of mixed crop cultivation implemented in Wayanad.

The results from the table clearly indicate that marginal farmers had been more enthusiastic to shift their cropping pattern from coffee to pepper. The major cash crops which replaced coffee are pepper, tea and arecanut as shown by the table mentioned below.

Cost of Coffee Production

Coffee production being highly labour-intensive encounters a very high cost of production which has become one of the primary reasons for small and marginal farmers to shift from coffee to alternative higher revenue generating cash crops such as tea, pepper and arecanut. The usage of manual labour in the process of coffee cultivation can be attributed to the following sequentially adopted sub-processes mentioned below:-

Activity of controlling weed which is usually done thrice a year. The women labourers in Wayanad are typically engaged with the control of this agricultural activity wherein they cut and remove the weeds manually using sickles

Activity of upturning the soil with manual labour using a spade is usually done twice a year

Activity of applying manures such as cow dung and fertilizers is done twice a year

Activity of pruning where the undesired parts of the coffee saplings are ripped off is typically done twice a year

Activity of final coffee bean collection at the time of harvest during the month of December to February is done by hand-picking which is usually carried out once a year

Activity of applying pesticides and insecticides to protect against germs is also done once a year. This activity increases the cost of labour by a huge extent given the embedded cost of pesticides which is also charged along with the cost of applying it with the soil.

The costs related to all these activities can be termed as the current expenses which are currently found to be in the range of Rs. 35,000 – 40,000 per hectare. Moreover, large estate farmers who install sprinkler irrigation systems or drip systems incur a much higher cost due to the large investments involved with these systems. The initial cost associated with raising a new coffee farm altogether would include the current expenses of the initial four years from the start of preparing the farm. This is because from the generally seen trend, it has been found that coffee plants usually start producing sufficient yield from the fourth year of planting.

Constraints faced by farmers

There are many constraints faced by the coffee-producing farmers in Wayanad which makes it more difficult for them to adopt coffee-farming as the one and only mode of family income. Some of them are:-

Scarcity of labour is a major concern and given the intensity of labour required for adopting more of natural farming methods in coffee cultivation all throughout the year, this problem should be resolved by providing better opportunities to both labourers (who need to be paid reasonable income for their employment in coffee gardens) and farmers (who need to generate a decent income to pay off the labourers well). The scarcity of labour has thus resulted in a very high cost of labour charged which along with the huge coffee price fluctuations makes it all the more worrying for the coffee-cultivating farmers.

The farmers do not possess any market knowledge about what the coffee prices are in the domestic and international markets. Their only network within the coffee chain is with the local traders or middlemen whom they sell the coffee produce in bags typically containing roughly 54 kgs of coffee. The M.S. Swaminathan NGO operating in Kalpetta, Wayanad currently only provides training and demonstration on ways of efficient coffee cultivation. Their primary function is to teach the farmers the various methods of coffee-capacity building. They also provide the farmers the opportunity to take certifications regarding coffee cultivation practices but given the limited source of income from coffee cultivation, most of the farmers except the large farmers do not avail this opportunity of taking farm-related certifications. However, they don’t provide any financial help to the farmers.

The funding support provided by the farmers is majorly provided by nationalized banks such as State Bank of Travancore and other district co-operative banks which provide loans at lower interest rates compared to the market rates. However, there are a lot of hidden cost charges in the loan which makes a loan very expensive during the time of settlement. So, the small and marginal groups of farmers have very little scope of negotiating their selling prices with the local traders as their urgent requirement for liquid cash to pay off their loan installments makes them more anxious. Adding to that, these group of farmers do not have any warehouses of their own to keep the harvest and sell them off when the local market offers higher coffee prices. The cost of carrying inventory in warehouses possesses an impounding effect along with the existing interest charges taken due to loans availed earlier. However, large estate farmers having the advantage of possessing economies of scale for coffee cultivation in Wayanad, some of them do have their own warehouses and hence are able to make higher revenues than that of small and marginal farmers. Moreover, the farmers having lack of co-operation amongst themselves have not been involved in collaborative decision-making to form co-operatives for a better cause. Microfinance institutions are also not working in Wayanad, which makes the availability of funds more costly.

The farmers are not in any way directly connected to the wholesalers or retailers of the coffee market. This makes the middlemen to pocket much of profit which could have otherwise been a part of the farmers’ profit. The NGO’s also don’t provide any help and assistance to increase the networking potential of farmers connecting them directly to the end-sellers in the market, thereby cutting out the need of middleman in the coffee chain. The main reason could be the strong lobbying from the local traders which makes their participation in the coffee chain inevitable.

Lack of adoption of natural and eco-friendly methods such as rain water harvesting due to the excess costs incurred in implementing it. Although there have been certain government schemes to promote rain water harvesting in Kerala which are rare, the farmers being unaware of such schemes actually have not been able to avail them. Moreover lack of co-operation among the farming community creates hindrances in active engagement of such environmental friendly schemes.

Conclusion

After conducting a thorough research analysis of the coffee cultivation methods in Wayanad, we have tried to identify the major problems encountered by the farmers in adopting natural farming methods at the grassroot level. Although most of the sub-agricultural activities related to the coffee cultivation are done through natural farming instead of organic farming, still the farming method is not entirely natural. This is because of the following reasons listed below:-

Organic farming although increases the cost of coffee cultivation by a certain extent, is a proper mechanism to fight against pests and insurmountable diseases. It also brings along with the flavor highly regarded in the coffee market.

Coffee cultivation being a major source of income, farmers gives strong emphasis to the farming technology used so that they can maximize their income as much as possible. Simple natural farming technology needs much more labour than that for organic farming which makes it all the more costly given the high costs of labour in Wayanad.

However, with proper guidance from NGO’s about the modern methods of natural farming which are highly efficient and the availability of cheap labour, the farmers can incorporate natural farming in the long run which would be a beneficial cause from all angles.

Interviewees

The following people who have been interviewed have provided extensive support in revealing necessary information for completion of our social development project. They are:-

Name:- N. Gopalakrishnan, Farm Manager of M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (NGO)

Office: – Puthorvayal, Kalpetta, a small town in Wayanad

Cel No:- +91- 96561-02590

Kindly ask Anil to add three more names including the One whom he has interviewed. Please follow the above format


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