This article is on shade-grown plantations in India, written by Dr. Pereira and M.S. Pereira
Dr. Pereira is a microbiologist & a coffee farmer and owns the Kirehully Estate in the Western Ghats, in Hassan District, India. Ms. Geeta Pereira, wife of Dr. Anand Pereira is a horticulturist and a coffee farmer.
Forest trees belonging to different species are an integral part of the Indian coffee ecosystem. In fact, all shade grown Indian coffee farms are a mosaic of coffee plants and natural forests. The characteristic feature of Indian coffee plantations is that they are shade grown under the canopy of a three tiered shade system. The coffee farms are home to a variety of wild shade trees (hardwood, softwood, semi hardwood) and not just confined to a monoculture of selective trees (single species). As a matter of fact, in any Indian coffee plantation, whether the plants are Arabica or Robusta, there is every likelihood of a standing tree population of approximately 150 to 200 trees per hectare. The biological diversity reaches its zenith inside the coffee mountain. In India coffee plantations are of two types, namely the Arabica plantations (densely shaded) and the Robusta plantations (moderately shaded). In the early days the British pioneers opened up Plantations in select virgin evergreen forests. The forest wealth (native trees) was not destroyed but coffee seedlings were planted in rows so as to not distrub the existing native trees. The overhead shade from native trees was good enough for the cultivation of coffee.
In the second phase of expansion, due to scarcity of virgin forests, the Indian coffee planters opened up tens of thousands of acres of open hills, meadow lands (open grasslands) and converted them into coffee estates. It is in this open situation that the planters felt the need for establishing shade. Hence they planted forest grown nursery tree seedlings along with quick growing introduced varieties like silver oak, red and white cedar, Mangium, Mesopsis, etc. Dadap (Erythrina species) is planted as a lower canopy shade. Generally two meter long stakes are planted for every two plants of coffee. The forest tree seedlings are planted at the same time during which coffee is planted.
Every coffee farmer has his own nursery set up. The nursery serves as a one stop shop for the requirements of all planting material required for the plantation. The Coffee Board has set up liaison offices which also provide quality seeds and seeds of new varieties. Whenever, forest tree seedlings are required, the same is obtained from either Government sponsored nurseries or from Private nurseries. Clonal propagation of coffee is not followed.