With no financial or technical support from the government and financial sector, Paliyar tribals living at Korankombu village have been producing high quality chemical residue-free coffee, using their traditional low-cost cultivation methods.
Abject poverty, no access to latest technologies and lack of funds for buying fertilizers and pesticides are a blessing in disguise for these tribals as they have been adopting their traditional agriculture practices generations after generations to grow coffee in the reserve forest areas at this village. Hard work and traditional farming knowledge are their only investment.
“We have no money to buy inputs. So, we apply natural manure and organic waste generated in our field. Adequate shade is necessary for plants to grow and for better yield. Pest attack is also under control this year owing to good showers,” says K. Murugan, traditional coffee planter at Korankombu.
They raise both Arabica and Robusta variety of coffee in each farm. While tall Robusta crops are grown near field bund, short Arabica trees are planted inside the field. Orange trees are also there. They neither cut forest trees nor clean land to raise coffee.
Natural coffee production does not affect the yield much. They have harvested 600 kg an acre when compared to one tonne kg by mega planters elsewhere who use inorganic method.
“We never pay wages to labourers for plucking fruits. Family members of one tribal planter worked in other’s farm for free. ‘Shram dhan’ is still in vogue among tribal planters for harvesting,” says G. Sankar, another tribal planter.
The irony is that no coffee research station officials has visited the village till now.
Forest officials and Q branch police are the only visitors to the village often. Collector T.G. Vinay was the first top-level officer who visited the village to take part in a mass contact programme, he said.
With no contact with the outer world, these tribals depend solely on big coffee estate owners to sell their high quality produce. They hand over their entire produce to the estate owners and receive whatever they offer for their survival. Even today, tuber available in the reserve forests is their only food.
Having impressed by their work culture, the Forest Department has now come forward to legalise their rights to use forest land for agriculture purpose under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. More than 36 coffee planters’ families would benefit.
Recognising their legal rights alone would not bring any fortune to them.
Direct marketing support with brand label for their produce is the need of the hour. The State and Central governments should recognise their product and popularise them throughout the world.