A long pending trip to Coorg came about recently. Known for its coffee plantations and a tourist attraction a visit to this famous district of Karnataka was always on the cards. Since I joined my present assignment, I have been urged and advised by many to visit Coorg or Kodagu as it is called now. This visit of mine not only gave me an opportunity to take in the culture of the Kodavas and their traditions but also honour the long standing invitation of Sri. Bose Mandanna.
Sri Bose Mandanna is the 'go-to' person for anything on Indian coffee. His coffee plantation – Subramanya Estate in Wooluguli village, Suntikoppa has not one or two varieties of coffee but 40 varieties of Arabica coffee plants. The numerous varieties are his research effort towards finding suitable solutions for the problems faced by the coffee planters in India. His plantation is an active example of Mr. Mandanna's contribution to the research, development and expansion of the coffee sector in India.
His experience in the coffee sector has been long and eventful. He has during his lifetime occupied numerous important positions in the coffee sector including the post of Vice Chairman of the Coffee Board. This long journey with coffee has made him a great repository of coffee knowledge. His estate has a total area of 7.43 hectares, out of which 5.81 hectares is Arabica and 1.62 hectares is Robusta. The average productivity of his estate is about 750 kg per hectare for Arabica and about 1750 kg per hectare for Robusta.
Conversation with a learned person like Sri Mandanna is in itself an eye opener. One can feel his effusive passion for coffee with every anecdote that he narrates. Of the many hats he wears, one is of heading a group of enterprising coffee growers called "Care Takers" who are helping those growers who cannot take care of their estates. This group looks after the estates to ensure that the coffee plantation is not abandoned by the owners and ends up with outsiders. I could comprehend the sadness in his voice when he mentioned the lack of commitment among youngsters to look after their ancestral coffee plantations. He rues about labour problems for the planters but is appreciative of the Mechanisation Scheme of the Coffee Board. An interesting fact that he mentioned was that the labourers in the coffee plantations in India are well taken care of, apart from being well paid, they are given decent quarters to live, leave benefits and clothing to protect them from hostile weather among other things.
As regard to the white stem borer problem, he was of the opinion that till a permanent solution was found, the advisories rendered by CCRI should be strictly followed by all Arabica growers. He was of the opinion that the planters must be very particular about properly destroying the affected plants which are uprooted. On a tour through his plantation, it was interesting to see one experimental plant which had been affected by the WSB but Sri Mandanna instead of uprooting it, had wrapped its stem so that the results of experiment may not be lost and the borer had no way to escape. I hope that this research effort of his will yield results in the future.
As we explored his plantation, we saw a lot of different colours ribbons tied on different coffee plants. Curious, I asked him the reason for such segregation of plants, he mentioned that these plants were being subjected to different experiments and the different coloured ribbons denote the different treatments applied to the plants. It is evident that Sri Bose Mandanna is on an agenda; he is on the lookout for the perfect coffee plant – which will not only be resistant to diseases but also have a very good yield.
As Sri Bose Mandanna explained his unconventional methods to find solutions, I became convinced that one shouldn't be hesitant about trying different ways to arrive at an answer. One such procedure was a technique that is usually used in the Robusta variety but Sri Mandanna had applied it on Arabica, he showed me a patch of old un-yielding Arabica plants, the collars of which were pruned and young Chandragiri variety had been grafted on them. With this way the plants would be rejuvenated and be ready to yield in two years time instead of the usual four years as the old root system is developed and ready to support the plant. White ants are a menace to trees, it eats away the bark making the surface smooth and the pepper vines fall off due to lack of grip. I learnt that in his plantation the problem of white ants were dealt in an eco-friendly way with bio products.
There is a patch of land on his estate which is relatively flat and suited for growing paddy and vegetables for local use. He also raises a few cows in his estate to meet the demand for milk and milk products for his family and his workers. The compost prepared on his estate is used for growing vegetables, paddy and other crops.
When it was time for us to leave, I not only left with a gift of the freshest produce of his land – a bagful of guavas, oranges and sapotas grown on his estate but also with a conviction that if the coffee sector can boast of such committed souls, even if they are few in number; then the future of Indian coffee is indeed bright.