Prospects of coffee in Manipur

Miranda Sanjenbam *

Coffee berry, Bali, Indonesia
Coffee berry, Bali, Indonesia :: Pix Courtesy - Wikipedia/Jmhullot

Coffee in India is one of the major commercial crops contributing in the export sector of market in the international aspect. India stands fifth in the ranking of coffee production worldwide. In this acquirement of such a good position in the global scenario, the north-eastern region of India holds very minute position in the contribution of coffee production in India even though coffee is a well known crop to every individuals of the region.

It has its history of introduction in the early 80s as an alternative solution to fight Jhum cultivation prevailing in the region as a customary practice. North-eastern region being a neglected part of the country in many attributes has enormous natural resources and great biodiversity. And the information found in the records of Coffee Board of India, it is quite evident that the crop is very much suitable with the climatic conditions prevailing in the region.

The organizational set up of the Coffee Board is rendering all the possible aids and technologies in establishing a well versed coffee plantation in almost all the areas of the region. Keeping in view the difficult livelihood challenges faced by the people of these regions, the Board is working on to reach every nook and corner to expand coffee plantation.

As coffee is a perennial crop, it requires at least 3-4 years in bearing fruits, with a lifespan of 60-70 years once the crop is planted in the field. Timely management and other cultural practices are of course required for maximum bearing and tolerance to the pest infestation. Two species of coffee are generally adopted for plantation depending on the altitude of the sites, i.e. Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora.

Arabica coffee is suitable for higher altitude ranging from 1000 m-1500 m above sea level and Robusta coffee for lower altitude between 500-1000 m. To retain the authenticity of the variety, it is highly advisable to the growers that they acquire the seed coffee for plantation from the Coffee Board of India, even though the seedlings are available in several commercial nurseries.

Coming to the perspectives of Manipur, it was learnt that coffee already existed in the state when it was brought for plantation by Manipur Plantation Crops and Corporation Ltd. and other related NGOs earlier. Unfortunately, the products of these plants were unable to convert in to the expected revenue due to the communication gap between the Board and the growers and that it was never brought into limelight about the existence of coffee in the region.

While taking up a case study in the matter, it was found out that since they could never find a proper market for coffee in the state, they had to abandon it with heavy hearts.

In spite of all these disappointments, Coffee Board of India stayed connected with the state and few planters through an extension centre in Churachandpur. The database present in Coffee Board showed an approximate figure of planted area of 240 ha under Arabica and 7 ha under robusta.

The Board in collaboration with MOBC , MOBEDS organized a consultative workshop in the month of September, 2017 to know the problems faced by the early planters and what alternate means they had to take up to combat the losses. And it was positively learnt about the potentials of coffee in different sector. Ever since then, MOBC and the Board are working together in developing and promoting coffee in the state in every possible means.

The recent adoption of coffee plantation in the golden triangle of Myanmar replacing Poppy plantation is one good step closer to a secured future. Considering about the BCIM corridor in the pipeline, it is high time for Manipur to give a proper thought on trade and commerce and the consequent opportunities which need to be grabbed at the right time.

In an article published in ‘The Statesman’ written by Rangan Datta entitled possible Game Changer he clearly mentioned the benefits, north-eastern states will be getting and also country as a whole. He talked about the feasible multi-modal transport system and trilateral Thailand, Myanmar and India railway projects by linking Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland to establish trade and industry hubs all the way to Mandalay from Manipur and to Sittwee port and Yangon. Keeping these in mind, it would always be wise to be the first one to initiate something which will hold a firm place in the coming future and make the best out of it.

Other North-eastern states of India namely Nagaland, Meghalaya are already in the mission to make it big in the global scenario in terms of plantation and production. Smoky falls coffee of Shillong reaching the International coffee festival is indeed one of the greatest achievements of coffee in north-eastern region.

Also the coffee of Nagaland is exported to South Africa making the transactions very much instant which lures the interest of the planters easily. These foreign traders came to know about coffee in Nagaland mainly through Hornbill festival when it was first showcased by the Land resource Department of Nagaland.

So, in Manipur, where there are multiple international and national level festivals observed every year such as Sangai festival, Shirui festival, Cherry blossom festival etc., what is stopping the planting community of Manipur in bringing out the crop in the forefront?

If we give a thought on the processing and consumption, almost all the trending restaurants and café in every nook and corner of Manipur has a vending machine supplied by Café coffee Day through various dealers. So, there is no doubt in concluding that coffee is widely consumed in the state by every section of individual.

Green coffee is one processed product which has very high demand in the market now because of its various health benefits such as in weight loss, lowering blood sugar, high level of antioxidants etc. Also it acts as an important ingredient in bakery industry with its unique flavor resembling chocolate. With all such characters inherited in the coffee beans, there is no doubt in stating that Coffee indeed is a wonder crop and holds a very bright future in developing an economically backward state like Manipur.

The creation of international business hub, reconciliation of the environmental problems, enhancement of standard of living, provision of self-employment in the plantation sector etc are some of the wonders coffee plantation can bring in this state.

The main concerns of the humankind in the present era are climate change, sustainability and food security. Survival is not going to be that easy in the future ahead without keeping all these constraints at check. We all are well aware of the main factors causing such a drastic change in the environment. Deforestation is the root cause for so many natural calamities worldwide.

In Manipur context, the inhabitants cut down trees especially in hilly region for practicing Jhum cultivation for maintaining livelihood. When question comes for survival, nobody has the right to stop the hilly people from cutting down the trees for farming purposes, which is the sole source of income and also for livelihood. Only when there is an alternative to such problems, people will stop degrading the environment as such.

In the recent visits of Coffee Board for survey and inspection in some interior villages of Manipur, it was found out that there are certain villages which have no electricity (except on Christmas), no proper roads, no proper communication facilities, almost cut out from the emerging trends of the world. And in such state of lives, how can the concerned authority enforce something and tell them not to practice Jhum, which is the only source of livelihood for them?

Coffee is a shade loving plant generally grown under shade trees in Indian condition unlike those in Brazil, Guatemala, Uganda, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Coffee can therefore be considered as one of the few preventive measures to combat the alarming condition of deforestation carrying out in the region.

Another great characteristic of this plant is that it can be grown with any kind of crops, be it seasonal crops, spices, horticultural crops etc. With these practices, there is no need for the planter to worry about not getting revenue from coffee until it bears fruit. There are so many success stories of multiple or integrated cropping system of the planters in the traditional area of coffee such as Karnataka, Coorg, Kerala. One just needs to be a little committed, determined and patient while planting coffee, nothing more.

So, here lies the choice we can make about our future in terms of production, processing, consumption and marketing of coffee plants. All these challenges are likely to be sorted easily with the up-coming and on-going activities of coffee plantation in the state.

With the changing climatic conditions and the alarming natural calamities faced almost in regular intervals, it would be a wise step to start thinking about the remedies and preventive measures permanently and not extending relief measures after the disasters already struck us. Also when the opportunity of creating an international hub of coffee with the agendas made for the BCIM corridor at higher authority level, no other choices stand a chance against embracing it.

And as the traditional blessing in South India goes “May you live for a hundred years like davara-tumbler of coffee” may the people of Manipur get enlightenment of the consistency and diverse wonder a coffee plant can do to the nature.

* Miranda Sanjenbam wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is Extension Inspector for Coffee Board of India
This article was webcasted on July 29 , 2018.

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