While politicians around the world still grapple with appropriate responses to climate change, or if indeed there should be any response at all, for the Coffee Board of India (CBI) the time for talk has passed and the focus is now on mitigating the effects of the changing climate on the nation’s coffee crop. The CBI is spearheading efforts to safeguard the livelihood of its members from the negative effects of climate change by introducing a variety of programs and measures to address the challenges they are facing. The Director of Research at India’s Central Coffee Research Institute, Dr Raghuramulu, says the effects of climate change, as well as the impacts of more intensive farming practices in recent years, are already well and truly visible in India’s main coffee growing regions, which are based in the Western Ghats mountain range in the south-west of the country. “[In India], coffee has been cultivated in a traditional agro-forestry landscape under mixed shade of native trees and exotic trees with high degree of diversification (mixed cropping) with black pepper, orange, banana and other plantation crops,” Raghuramulu says. “This practice has ensured the longevity of the farm, maintenance of biodiversity and simultaneously providing a host of ecosystem services. Over a period of time, the coffee growers tended to reduce the shade cover to achieve higher crop production. The thinning of shade cover coupled with changing climatic conditions in recent years have started to impact on the coffee production in India in a significant manner.” Raghuramulu says that his analysis of certain climatic parameters of two of the main coffee growing areas within the Western Ghats, Chikmagalur and Coorg, which together contribute nearly 60 per cent of India’s annual crop, show the serious impacts of climate change. “Trend line analysis of 100 years of rainfall data available at the Research Institute of the Coffee Board in Chikmagalur District indicated that the rainfall during the current decade (2005-2014) was increased by 410.68 millimetres per annum, which broke down to 65.43 millimetres in summer, 314.79 millimetres in the rainy season and 30.46 millimetres during winter, as compared to the previous decade (1995-2004),” Raghuramulu tells Global Coffee Report. In addition to this, an analysis of the temperature patterns in Chikmagalur showed that the maximum temperature between 2005 and 2014 had increased by an average of 0.8 degrees Celsius, with rises of 0.8 degrees, 0.5 degrees and 1 degree during summer, rainy and winter periods respectively compared to the previous decade. Similarly, the summer, rainy and winter period mean minimum temperature was increased by 0.8 degrees, 0.9 degrees and 1 degree respectively compared to the 10 years from 1995 to 2004, and the average increase in minimum temperature was 0.9 degrees. Coorg showed similar results, with an increase in the average rainfall of 12 millimetres in the 10 years between 2005 and 2014 compared to the previous decade.
Similarly, the maximum temperature in Coorg during the decade of 2005 to 2014 during summer, rainy and winter periods was increased by 1 degree, 0.2 degrees and 1.2 degrees respectively compared to the previous decade. The minimum temperature during the summer, rainy and winter periods was increased by 0.5 degrees, 1.2 degrees and 1.76 degrees respectively compared to the previous decade. “The rise in both minimum and maximum temperatures created favourable conditions for frequent flare-ups of major pests like white stem borer in Arabica coffee,” Raghuramulu says. “This factor coupled with shortage of labour, especially skilled workers, is forcing the producers to switch from highly labour-intensive Arabica coffee to Robusta coffee, which can be cultivated easily with less labour requirements.” In order to protect the coffee bushes from high radiation levels and rising temperatures, the CBI has launched massive awareness programs on the importance of maintaining good shade cover. “The growers have also realised the importance of shade cover for coffee and have started to avoid shade regulation or thinning in their plantations,” Raghuramulu says. While the climate data showed an increase in rainfall overall, Raghuramulu says that the changing timing and frequency of those rains is having a negative impact on coffee cultivation. “Indian coffee growing areas receive the bulk of their rains – up to 70 per cent – during the south-west monsoon, which is from June to September,” Raghuramulu says. “The remaining rainfall is received during the north-east monsoon – up to 20 per cent from October to November, and summer showers from March to May. During the past decade, the north-east monsoon has failed in many years. This is leading to long dry spells of up to to five months.” Raghuramulu says this change in rainfall patterns is leading to erratic blossoming of the coffee crops. “During the last decade, erratic or insufficient summer showers were received in seven years. The summer showers are essential for normal blossom and fruit setting in coffee,” he says. Strategies being employed by CBI to address the challenges posed by climate change include bringing back the traditional sustainable practices in coffee cultivation, which have been the strength of Indian coffee, Raghuramulu says. “The components like maintenance of desirable shade pattern, conservation of natural resources such as in-situ moisture conservation, harvesting of rainwater, recycling of on-farm organic wastes, adoption of integrated nutrient and pest and disease management practices, need to be given priority,” he says. “These strategies are equally consistent with the concept of sustainability. Hence the Coffee Board of India has launched programs for creating the awareness among the growers for adoption of these sustainable technologies to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change in coffee growing regions of India.” Among these programs is the recommendation to farmers that a well-maintained two-tier canopy of shade is best for protecting coffee bushes against high summer temperatures.
In the case of Arabica, a canopy coverage of 50 to 60 per cent with two-tier shade pattern is essential to provide required micro climatic conditions. This helps to mitigate the effects of drought besides control of pest and diseases. In case of Robusta, 30 to 40 per cent shade cover is recommended to achieve maximum productivity without adversely affecting the coffee bushes. Indian coffee plantations host nearly 200 different types of shade trees. However, the desirable shade trees recommended for coffee plantations include native trees that contribute substantial leaf litter biomass and high value timber trees for fetching additional income to famers. In addition to this, the CBI is advising farmers on the benefits of building the organic matter in the soil. “Preparation of compost using coffee fruit skin and shade trees leaf biomass, coffee prunings etc and its application once every few years helps in building up of soil organic matter, while saving the inorganic fertilisers,” says agronomist Dr Rudragouda. Another strategy the CBI is actively promoting is a focus on in-situ moisture conservation. “Well-tested on-farm practices like in-situ soil and water conservation measures like staggered trenches and pits across the slope, scuffling of top soil followed by mulching of young fields will help in in-situ water harvesting in coffee plots during rainy season and prevention of evaporation of sub-soil moisture during dry months,” Rudragouda says. The CBI is also working with farmers to establish sustainable irrigation and water harvesting and recycling practices. “Adoption of water storage structures like mini check dams and farm ponds will help in harvesting of rainwater which could be used for irrigating the coffee for blossom and fruit setting as well as for sustenance irrigation of young coffee plants,” Rudragouda says. “Sprinkler irrigation is being recommended for aiding normal blossom and fruit setting especially in Robusta coffee which is being widely adopted by the coffee growers.” Finally, the CBI has been very active in promoting the principles of integrated pest management. “Unlike many other major producers, India grows both the commercial species of coffee – Arabica and Robusta,” Raghuramulu says. “Coffee white stem borer is the major pest of Arabica coffee which is absent in other major Arabica producing countries of the world. The coffee berry borer attacks both Arabica and Robusta. India also has highest number of coffee leaf rust races (physiological forms) due to highly favourable conditions. Of the nearly 45 rust races identified in the world, nearly 36 rust races are present in India. “The Research department of Coffee Board has been working on these twin problems of white stem borer and leaf rust on Arabica coffee for the past nine decades and has developed sound integrated management packages for both white stem borer and leaf rust, which have greatly helped in sustaining Arabica coffee production in the country.” GCR