During early 2011, the coffee project was initiated with a dream of producing organic coffee in Chitwan hills and improving the lives of local people. In less than 3 years, we see our dream falling apart as young coffee plants that we planted, die one after other in the climate that, we thought, should be suitable for coffee plantation. It is indeed disappointing to share our unsuccessful stories, but this also provides an opportunity to find the way for the future initiatives by assessing our failed efforts.
People are growing different crops in different geographical regions and climatic conditions. Maize is main crop along with millet, buckwheat, wheat, mustard, and seasonal vegetables in the hills. In most Chepang communities, what they grow, with their all hard work, is not sufficient for whole year round so that they have to depend upon the supplementary wild foods that they collect from the forests or they have to go elsewhere to work as daily laborer.
Their socio-economic condition could be improved with improvement in traditional agricultural practices and cultivation of the new crops that bring much needed cash to family. With this notion, the concept of Organic Coffee Project has been envisioned.
Books for Nepal with support from Soleil Vert/France initiated Organic Coffee Project with aim to embark on commercial coffee production in Chitwan hills that would be helpful for socio-economic improvement of local people. It was intended to do the coffee plantation program in Gadi as a trial basis and, if successful, to replicate the program in other villages. As coffee plants require shade, the coffee garden with plenty of other additional trees would be much helpful to stabilize the soil in steep terrain to protect it from monsoon rain, erosion and landslide.
Accordingly, coffee training for interested farmers was organized and coffee nursery bed was setup in Gadi. Some four farmers of Gadi received the coffee plantation training in Begnas during late January, 2011. They learned procedures to do organic coffee plantation and management of coffee garden, and they also awared of high value and demand of organic coffee. They also brought the coffee seedlings from coffee nursery located in Pokhara. The seedlings, that planted in four different sites in Gadi, are good except in one site where the soil is stiff and yellowish in color.
During mid-April 2011, coffee nursery bed was setup in Gadi which was successful. It took more than a year for seedlings to be ready for plantation.
Similar coffee plantation training was organized in Gadi for some 36 farmers during late January 2012. A farmers' committee 'Gadi Coffee Producers Group' has been formed for effective management of the project.
Then coffee seedlings were distributed to farmers of Gadi and surrounding villages. They planted the seedlings during May-June 2012. The young plants were good initially but they gradually died during dry season (after monsoon) in most areas. The plants might not get enough water to survive.
With same procedures, coffee nursery bed was again prepared in July 2012 but it was not successful. Because there were only few sprouts in nursery beds, we could not continue coffee plantation in next season. Probably we did not have good quality coffee seeds.
The project suffered major setback when the coffee plants began to die. The situation further exacerbated when second nursery setup was unsuccessful. Because of series of setbacks, people's hope on this program is gradually fading away as they could not see the economic benefits in near future. Generally people are more inclined to the agricultural produces that grow fast and could be used immediately.
Community based programs function well only with proper support, willingness and acceptance of the people. These programs should focus on their need in the first place. Realizing their need, we should work together blending indigenous knowledge with new ideas for the sustainability of the projects.