In early January this year, Edwige, (president, Soleil-Vert, France) sitting at the restaurant in Sauraha and drinking a cup of coffee, talked about the possibility of planting coffee in the hill region of Chitwan.
Earlier, I had accompanied her and her friends to Upardang Gadi, the beautiful hill area of Chitwan, to initiate school support programs.
People generally involve traditional farming in the hills that is not sufficient for whole year round. Local economy can be uplifted with the development of agriculture sector with improved farming practices. Coffee plantation should be successful in Upardang Gadi area as its climate and altitude is suitable for this crop.
Participants in the training
We thoroughly discussed the issue and intended to do the trial plantation to Upardang Gadi area for commercial organic coffee plantation, the first ever in Chitwan district. We planned to organize the coffee plantation training for the farmers of Upardang Gadi in Begnas, Kaski with the help of Soleil-Vert and HELVETAS.
On January 25, 2011, Tej Bahadur Gurung, Santa Bahadur Chepang and Santosh Gurung of Upardang Gadi and me headed to Begnas to receive the training. Amelie Guyonneau (volunteer/France) was also with us as observer and photographer. Kulchandra Adhikari, a successful coffee farmer and trainer, warmly welcomed us with strong coffee that was grown in his own garden. Sweet aroma of the coffee filled in the air and we enjoyed the strong the taste. Amelie found the real taste of coffee first time ever since she had been in Nepal. Its taste is different from the instant coffee that is available in the market. Kulchandra emphasized that people should use filter coffee instead of instant coffee to have the real taste of coffee.
During morning session, trainees were introduced with historical background of coffee and its development and use in different regions including Nepal. Coffee has been first discovered in Ethiopia in 850 AD while it has been first commercially cultivated in Arabia. Hira Giri of Gulmi introduced coffee in Nepal bringing seeds from Myanmar in 1942 AD. Different species and sub-species of coffee, their properties and health related issues of caffine (the substance found in coffee) were discussed. There are many species of coffee but arabica (Coffea ababica) and robusta (Coffea canephora) are two main species commercially cultivated. In Nepal, arabica species and its different sub-species have been commercially cultivated in 40 districts occupying some 1450 hectares of land in the mid-hills (National Tea and Coffee Development Board). Arabica coffee has less caffine and it is tastier as well. There are three key issues that we have to consider for commercial coffee plantation: environmental, management and economic.
Before we select the land or region for coffee plantation, we have to consider the environmental condition of the region to understand whether the region is suitable for coffee plantation. There should be specific climatic and soil condition for the coffee. Generally coffee can be planted at the altitude from 800 m. to 2000 m. Coffee grown in higher altitude be more tastier but it should not be affected by frost and snow.
Environment is not under the control of human so we have to put maximum effort on management issue. We discussed how to set up nursery, how to select good coffee beans, prepare the nursery bed, plant the seeds and taking care of seedlings. We also learned how to select and prepare the land for coffee plantation and how to plant the coffee seedling. Intensive care should require at least for 3 years before it yields coffee beans that is suitable for harvesting for commercial use. Coffee plants need shade as direct and open sunlight is not good for them. For the young seedlings, temporary shades can be erected but for long period we have to plant trees in the coffee garden that provide proper shade. We also learned how to make bordo mixture (organic pesticide).
After this theory class, we visited some coffee gardens where we observed different sub-species of arabica coffee. Whole bunch of brilliant red and yellow coffee cherries attracted all of us. We observed that coffee plants which get shade and enough bio-fertilizers, grow well and yield more beans than other plants. We visited Surya Prasad Adhikari’s coffee garden that looks like a field laboratory as it is well managed with pulping machine, vermi-compost and sheds to keep the parchments.
Surya Prasad Adhikari informing participants
Mr. Adhikari (president, Organic Coffee Production and Marketing Ltd.) informed that they sold 23 tons of coffee (parchment) to Everest Coffee last year but this year they sold some 12 tons of coffee, as harvesting is not so good this year. This is also a collection center as he buys cherry (coffee beans) at the rate of NPR 30 per kg from other farmers and sells the parchment at 160 to Everest Coffee. Citing the lack of manpower, he encouraged young generation to involve in agriculture sector. Many foreign students/volunteers come to his place to learn/work in coffee programs.
Next day, we discussed about the useful trees to provide shade for coffee plants. Fruit trees would be especially good as farmers get benefited from them as well. These trees hold the soil firmly so as to protect soil erosion and landslides in the hills. Green garden is also good for the environment. We also discussed about the diseases and harmful insects that affect the coffee plants.
Coffee beans ready for pulping
As the demand of organic coffee is higher than the production rate, economic potential is good in coffee plantation. Moreover, farmers could get benefited from growing fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and other useful plants in the garden. We also learned how to process red/yellow cherry to make parchment for commercial sale using pulping machine.
Participants observing coffee garden
When we (participants) informed the environment (soil, climate and altitude) of Upardang Gadi area to Kulchandra, he is confident that coffee would be good in that region. He suggested us to take some 40 seedlings from nursery and plant them in that region. He also suggested to setup nursery that gives enough seedlings for all the farmers who are interested in this program.
Parchments being dried
After conclusion of theory class, we visited coffee and nursery garden of Indra Gauchan (President, District Coffee Producers’ Association) in Pokhara. He is very excited to know that young farmers from Chitwan are interested in coffee plantation. He encouraged us to do coffee plantation involving many other farmers because volume of coffee production should be higher for commercial marketing. He expressed his willingness to help and support through his Association on this regard. We collected some 40 seedlings (two different sub-species: 20 red, 20 yellow) from the nursery.
Seedlings in the nursery, Pokhara
Generally plantation should be done before monsoon (during March/April), but once seedling is taken from nursery that should be planted immediately and proper care should be taken after plantation. Seedlings (brought from Pokhara) were planted immediately in Upardang Gadi in accordance with the instructions given in the training. Coffee seedlings were planted in 4 different sites where soil composition is slightly different from others. Proper care has been taken and seedlings are good in condition so far, except in one site where soil is stiff and yellowish in color.
Coffee plantation in Upardang Gadi
We will setup nursery with 1 kg of seeds (that will be provided by Kulchandra in due time) before monsoon and seedlings will be provided to other interested farmers. Kulchandra will also visit Chitwan for further instructions and training. We will document all the proceeding of nursery setup and plantation that will be useful for the future reference. Training provided us the first hand, field based and practical knowledge on organic coffee plantation that need to be applied in practice now, and we are committed for it.