Challenges In Coffee Farming
How do you get a great cup of coffee? Scoop a spoonful of roasted coffee beans. Put them in your coffee grinder. Get your daily baggy of ground coffee and get set to brew a refreshing cup of fresh coffee. Sounds simple enough, right? But there is a whole lot that goes on before the coffee beans reach you. On the other hand, coffee farming is a labour-intensive process and there are quite a few challenges at every stage right from on-farm production. Starting with processing, curing, travel, and shipping. Understandably, it takes a sizeable workforce, and the coming together of numerous factors to ensure good produce during harvest. There are so many challenges along the way, but coffee farmers plow on despite them all.
Coffee Farming in India
Coffee is not a native crop of Indian soil. In fact, a handful of beans were smuggled into the country by Baba Budan, a Sufi saint in 1600 AD from Mecca! It has since made itself at home on the scenic slopes of the Western Ghats. Click here if you want to read more about the origins of coffee!
Historically, coffee holds a prominent position as one of the most extensively traded commodities in the global market! Brazil is leading the way by contributing 60% of the world's coffee production. Other notable coffee-producing countries include Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia, as reported by the International Coffee Organisation in 2018.
Moreover, India is emerging as a significant contributor to international coffee production! Adding on, it proudly holds the title of being Asia's third-largest producer and exporter of coffee.
In India, coffee is a primary plantation crop that majorly grows under shady conditions. In addition, the coffee-growing regions in India boast diverse weather conditions that are ideal for growing various coffee varieties. Furthermore, regions with high elevations provide the perfect environment for growing Arabica coffee. On the other hand, areas with mild and humid conditions are best suited for Robusta coffee.
Coffee Hotspots in India
The southern region of India is the main hub for coffee growth. In fact, Karnataka has the highest production of coffee, followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Furthermore, there are over 4500 coffee fields, mostly at high altitudes of around 1300 meters above sea level.
In terms of the growth area, Karnataka takes the lead, with more than 60% of India's coffee cultivation land being located within the state. In fact, Karnataka is one of the leading coffee-producing states in India and dominates the industry by contributing to more than 70% of the country's total coffee output.
More than half of Karnataka's coffee production comprises Robusta beans and with the rest being Arabica beans. Not only does Karnataka boast of high production levels, but it also achieves impressive yield rates, averaging over 1,000 kg per hectare. This remarkable success is attributed to the state's favorable temperature and climate conditions. Since climate adds an ideal environment for large-scale coffee cultivation.
Kerala, the southern-most state of India, holds the position as the second-largest coffee-producing state, producing more than 20% of the country's total coffee output.
The key coffee-producing regions in Kerala are Wayanad and Travancore, contributing to more than 95% of the state's coffee crop. Coffee plants in Kerala thrive at high altitudes, typically around 1,200 meters.
Moving down the list, we come to Tamil Nadu, a prominent coffee-producing state contributing more than 5% of India's total coffee output. Arabica coffee beans take the lead in Tamil Nadu's production, followed by Robusta coffee beans. Tamil Nadu boasts of several key coffee-growing regions, namely Palani Hills, Nilgiris, Salem, and Coimbatore. Among these four places, Palani Hills stands out as the highest producer, yielding over 7600 Metric Tonnes of coffee annually.
It is the 4th largest coffee producer in India. Furthermore, Araku Coffee from the Araku Valley is an incredibly unique variety of Arabica achieved by a special method of drying the coffee cherries.
Odisha is the fifth largest coffee producer in India. In fact, Arabica coffee, known for its preference for moderate temperatures and ample rainfall, is the variety cultivated in Odisha. This state is home to four primary coffee-producing regions: Koraput, Rayagada, Phulbani, and Keonjhar.
Picture credit: Tractor Junction
The coffee plantations in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are on the Eastern Ghats. Rounding off the top ten in coffee cultivation in India are the Northeastern states of Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Assam (in that specific order). In addition, Robusta and Arabica are the popular varieties grown here, except in Manipur where the product is primarily Arabica and Canephora.
Ideal Conditions to Grow Coffee
Nevertheless, coffee is a delicate crop that needs specific conditions to grow in. Here are a few ideal conditions to grow coffee:
Coffee thrives in tropical regions characterized by a moderate and consistent climate. It requires temperatures ranging from 60°F (15°C) to 70°F (24°C). Interestingly, different coffee varieties have specific temperature preferences. Additionally, coffee plants are sensitive to frost and extreme temperature fluctuations.
The altitude at which coffee is cultivated impacts its quality and flavor profile. Higher altitudes, usually between 600 to 1800 meters above sea level, create favorable conditions for producing specialty coffee. Also, altitude influences the acidity, sweetness, and overall character of the coffee.
Coffee plants require well-distributed rainfall throughout the year. Ideally, an annual rainfall range of 1500 millimeters to 2500 millimeters is beneficial. However, regions with distinct wet and dry seasons can also support coffee farming, provided there is adequate moisture during the growing season.
Coffee plants thrive in well-drained, fertile soils enriched with organic matter. The soil should have good water retention capacity while allowing excess water to drain effectively. Acidic soils with a pH range of 6 to 6.5 are considered ideal for coffee cultivation.
Partial shade provided by taller trees or shade nets can benefit certain coffee varieties. Furthermore, Shade protects plants from excessive sunlight, reduces moisture evaporation, and promotes biodiversity within the coffee ecosystem.
It is important to note that specific coffee varieties may have additional requirements within these general conditions. Local climate variations and microclimates also contribute to determining the precise ideal conditions for coffee growth in different regions worldwide.
Common Challenges In Coffee Farming
Besides the number of factors to be considered to provide the coffee crop with an ideal environment to grow and flourish, other factors get in the way of a successful crop.
Some of the challenges faced at the production stage are:
1. Pests and Diseases:
Coffee farming faces the constant challenge of pests and diseases that can severely impact crop health and productivity. Common pests include coffee berry borers, mealy bugs, and shot hole borers, while diseases like coffee leaf rust and fungal infections pose significant threats. In fact, implementing effective pest management strategies and disease prevention measures is crucial to protect coffee plants.
2. Poor Disease Management:
Inadequate management practices for diseases can make their impact on coffee crops worse. What's more is that timely identification, proper diagnosis, and targeted treatment of diseases are essential to cut down their spread and mitigate their negative effects on yield and quality.
3. Climatic and Weather changes:
Coffee farming is vulnerable to climatic changes and natural disasters, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, and frost. Furthermore, erratic weather patterns and extreme events can disrupt flowering, affect fruit development, and damage the coffee plants, leading to yield losses and quality deterioration.
4. Irregular Rains and Early Blooming:
Irregular rainfall patterns, including the early or late onset of rains, can disrupt the normal flowering cycle of coffee plants. Early blooming poses challenges as it affects the synchronization of flowering and subsequent fruit maturation, impacting overall yield and harvest quality.
5. Improper Irrigation:
In regions with inadequate or unreliable water sources, the lack of irrigation facilities poses a significant challenge to coffee farming. Insufficient water supply during critical stages of plant growth can lead to water stress, affecting productivity and crop quality.
6. Lack of Pruning:
Pruning is essential for maintaining the health, productivity, and longevity of coffee plants. However, the lack of proper pruning practices or inadequate labor availability can result in uncontrolled plant growth, reduced yields, and increased susceptibility to diseases.
7. Lack of Resources for Weeding:
Weeding is crucial to reduce competition for resources and ensure optimal plant growth. However, the cost of manual weeding or the use of herbicides can be a financial burden for farmers, particularly in large plantations, affecting weed control efficiency and overall farm management.
8. Cultivation Cost:
Finally, coffee cultivation requires substantial initial investments in land preparation, planting, infrastructure, and inputs. The high upfront costs can be a barrier for small-scale farmers or those with limited financial resources, limiting their ability to adopt modern farming techniques and technologies.
How Can You Overcome These Challenges?
Farmers can oversee the risks and improve overall productivity by actively addressing the various challenges in coffee farming. This includes implementing preventive measures, adopting best practices, and staying updated on the latest advancements in the industry.
Farmer education plays a crucial role in managing challenges. Providing farmers with access to training programs and workshops equips them with the knowledge and skills needed to tackle issues such as pest and disease management, proper maintenance practices, and effective harvesting techniques. Continuous education empowers farmers to make informed decisions and implement sustainable farming methods.
Research and development contribute to effective challenge management. Investing in agricultural research helps identify innovative solutions to the challenges faced in coffee farming.
3. Financial support:
Access to credit and resources is essential for managing challenges in coffee farming. Many challenges, such as high maintenance costs and lack of resources, can be addressed with adequate financial support. Furthermore, accessible credit facilities enable farmers to invest in the necessary equipment, materials, and technologies! This helps in improving their ability to cope with challenges and enhance their productivity.
4. Government support:
Government support plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable coffee farming practices. Governments can aid through policies, incentives, research funds, and subsidies aimed at supporting coffee farmers.
Other Challenges Faced in Coffee Farming
Apart from the above-mentioned common challenges, several farmers in India face challenges like:
1. Labour shortage:
At every stage of coffee farming, there is a lot of manual labour involved. One of the biggest obstacles faced by coffee farmers these days is the lack of enough labour and high wages for availed labourers. The availability of skilled labour for coffee harvesting can be a challenge, particularly in remote or rural areas. Once in a while, limited labour supply can result in delayed harvesting, which can negatively impact the quality and yield of the crop.
The cost of hiring labourers for coffee harvesting can be substantial, especially in regions where labour costs are high, or wages are regulated. This can significantly impact the profitability of coffee farming operations. To mitigate this challenge, farmers can explore strategies such as optimizing labour utilization, implementing efficient work practices, and adopting mechanization technologies where feasible.
3. Loss prevention:
Equally important is the proper maintenance of coffee beans during the harvesting process is crucial to save quality and prevent post-harvest losses. However, the lack of attention and proper handling practices can result in damaged or spoiled beans, affecting their market value and overall profitability. To overcome this challenge, farmers need to prioritise regular training and education on proper harvesting techniques.
4. Farm maintenance:
Harvesting coffee involves various labour-intensive activities such as cherry picking, sorting, and processing. Moreover, the associated costs, including wages, equipment, and materials, can significantly impact the overall maintenance cost for coffee farmers. To manage this challenge, farmers can explore cost-saving strategies such as efficient labour management, mechanization of certain tasks where feasible, and group collaborations for shared resources and equipment.
5. Storage of coffee:
Proper storage of harvested coffee poses a significant challenge after harvesting. Nevertheless, proper storage is crucial to maintain the quality and freshness of coffee beans. Farmers must ensure that harvested coffee is stored in suitable conditions, including appropriate temperature, humidity, and ventilation.
6. Transportation challenges:
Poor transportation and shipment can also present challenges after harvesting coffee. furthermore, easier transportation is necessary to ensure that the harvested coffee reaches processing facilities or markets promptly. Using appropriate packaging materials, securing the coffee beans properly, and choosing reliable transportation methods are crucial.
Coffee farming is a challenging but rewarding profession. Coffee farmers face several challenges, including climate change, pests and diseases, inadequate infrastructure, low prices, and high labour costs. However, coffee farmers are a strong group of people who are dedicated to producing high-quality coffee. They are working to adapt to the challenges they face and are committed to ensuring that coffee remains a sustainable industry.