26 Oct 2016 14:50 IST

A marathon effort at sustainability

Ultra Marathon led to Coffee Day's 8,000 acres of Arabica coffee plantations being UTZ certified

The recent demand by the Rajya Raitha Sangha and thezilla panchayat to declare Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu districts of Karnataka as ‘drought-hit’ should serve as a wake up call for policy makers.

Depleting forest cover in the two major coffee growing districts of Karnataka due to indiscriminate tree felling for infrastructure development has largely contributed to rainfall deficit of up to 30 per cent. This has resulted in severe shortage of drinking water, fodder for cattle and withering of standing crops like coffee, cardamom and pepper.

To create awareness on the need to adopt environmentally sustainable practices to preserve the biodiversity of the Western Ghats, Coffee Day in association with GIREM (Global Initiative for Restructuring Environment and Management) hosted the Malnad Ultra Marathon, Karnataka’s first Ultra Marathon early this month. Set in the picturesque undulating terrain of Kemmanagundi in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats through six different Coffee Day estates, the Marathon drew participation from 200 runners from India, Japan, Singapore, Middle East and the UK.

“Most marathons promote a running culture where timing and personal bests are the primary focus. This marathon allows runners to connect with nature while they soak in the breathtaking vistas of the Bhadra Wildlife Reserve and backwaters as they navigate the tough, uneven terrain with a net ascent and descent of 4000 ft complete with steep gradients,” Bidisha Nagaraj, Group President Marketing, Coffee Day told BusinessLine.

A drive peppered with many pit stops along several Coffee Day estates revealed that 8,000 acres of Arabica coffee plantations are UTZ certified and around 4,500 acres of the group promoter owned estates are Rain Forest Alliance certified. While these international certifications ensure a minimum price for coffee grown in these estates, it also mandates the company to follow socially and environmentally appropriate growing practices, efficient plantation management techniques along with conserving biodiversity and improving livelihoods by promoting the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards.

Some of the sustainability practices witnessed first hand included:

The three- tier shade management system: The upper canopy made of wild jungle trees and a second tier made of silver oak trees produce more biomass in terms of leave litter and support lots of pollinator insects and birds. The lower third tier of leguminous trees support bacteria which convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant available nitrogen resulting in lower inorganic fertilizer demand to the plantations.

Bio-composting and natural manure: Coffee cherry husk, fallen leaves, dead trees and fruits from wild shade trees and other debris gets converted into organic carbon over a period of time due to bacterial decomposition and coffee plants respond well to this organic carbon rich manure, resulting in reduced need for inorganic fertilizers.

Integrated disease and pest management: Clean harvesting all the fruits from the plants without leaving any fruit for pests; collecting all dropped fruits on the ground while picking where pests take rest and breed for infecting the new fruits and trapping the adult Coffee Berry Borer (pest) with fruity smelling alcohol lures allows Coffee Day to maintain minimal use of chemicals and pesticides at its coffee estates. Most of the Arabica coffee cultivated in the plantations are of the fungal disease tolerant genetic line, which minimise the use of fungicides.

Natural sun-dried coffee: Coffee Day does not use mechanised dryers but follows natural drying of coffee beans after completion of wet process. The beans are spread open to the sun in specially constructed drying yards and turned at regular intervals by hand to ensure even drying, keeping the fine characteristics of the beans intact and making it an eco-friendly practice.

Eco-pulping technology: Eco-pulpers, the newest pulping equipment, processes coffee with minimum water usage and lowest power consumption among comparable technologies. It helps in the reuse of water, reducing water consumption drastically from 10-12 litres of water per kg of coffee fruit used by conventional pulpers to one litre by advanced eco-pulpers.

Rainwater harvesting: All Coffee Day plantations have large irrigation tanks filled through rainwater harvesting, minimising ground water usage. The harvested rainwater helps to irrigate around 25-50 per cent of the estates for two rounds in summer.

Conservation of water, soil, forests and wildlife: Only dead and decayed trees are removed from the estates. The Kathlekhan estates spread over 4000 acres is a biodiversity hotspot with medicinal plants, orchids, herbs, shrubs, wild trees, fauna including species of mammals, birds, reptiles amphibians, butterflies, insects, mantis, odonates and honey bees. The estate shares boundaries with the Bhadra forest reserve and wildlife sanctuary which are home to a variety of animals including tigers, elephants, leopards and over 300 varieties of birds.

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