Coffee Hotspots - An Inventory of Biodiversity
Readers are requested to refer to our previous articles for a better understanding of the present article.
Planet earth is the only GREEN planet of the Solar system that can support life. It is indeed a gem of creation and a magnificent masterpiece of Nature, sustaining millions of life forms. Shade grown, ecofrioendly coffee farms are perhaps a select few places on this planet where nature runs wild. Indian multi structured coffee plantations are home to a mind boggling array of diverse and endangered flora and fauna. These plantations are like well maintained botanical gardens of the wild. India being a mega diversity country possesses, 1,270,000 species of microorganisms, plants and animals. The vast stretch of coffee forests constitutes one of the mega bio diversity zones of the Western Ghats which is abundant with unique and diversified floral and faunal wealth. For the past two decades we have not only tried to conserve them but have also documented the species for future references.
Coffee farmers are blessed with a verdant landscape. The Tall and misty coffee mountains boasts of magnificent scenic beauty and some exquisite archeological ruins. The dense coffee forests and steep valleys encircle the green coffee plantations. It is indeed a tourist's delight. Inundated, by more than 70-200 inches of rain, due to the placement of the coffee farms in the rain shadow region of the western ghats, (Globally recognized as one among the 8 hottest hot spots of the world ) the forests are repositories of an amazing range of floral and faunal wealth. Nature is always held supreme in the eyes of the coffee farmer and the two partners NATURE & COFFEE FARMER form an inseparable bond that is largely responsible in safe guarding the biodiversity of this ecologically sensitive hot spot. More importantly, one needs to understand that the coffee farmer from one generation to the next has developed deep feelings for the land & has bonded with the forests, rivers, valleys, space, energy, endangered flora and fauna. The understanding stems from the fact that these various parameters are intricately inter connected, inter related and interdependent with the web of life inside the coffee mountain. In other words, one cannot do without the other.
The British Pioneers established coffee plantations under the canopy of native forest trees, through very meticulous research. They took great risks in surveying hostile territories and over a long drawn period of more than three decades came to the conclusion that only fertile forest tracts with adequate shade will help in the establishment of quality coffee , without destroying the fabric of the forest. In each and every district they earmarked very specific tracts of land for coffee cultivation. The extent of selected land was significantly lower than the area occupied by other crops. The area selected by the British was very rich in biodiversity and this very biodiversity played an integral role in the growing of ecofriendly shade grown coffee. Barren tracts or land like meadows, barren hills or open grass lands was categorized as unworthy for coffee cultivation. The COFFEE BOARD followed the British guidelines in letter and in spirit and thus the Indian coffee which had a unique taste of nature in the cupping quality was highly sort out in the Western world. Even today, shade grown Indian coffee fetches a premium in the International coffee market.
WHY THE NEED TO RECOGONISE COFFEE PLANTATIONS AS HOTSPOTS
India produces approximately 3.5% of global coffee and more than 95% of this coffee is shade grown under a multi layered canopy of forest trees and multiple crops. Majority of the coffee is grown in only three States, namely Karnataka, Kerala and Chennai. In Karnataka coffee cultivation is confined to three districts, namely Chikmagalur, Coorg and Hassan. In Hassan District coffee is grown in only two taluks namely sakleshpur and Belur. Sakleshpur taluk is famous for growing specialty coffee known as the MUNZERABAD coffee. Even in these three states coffee cultivation is restricted to only a few pockets. This is simply because growing coffee is not very easy and requires well defined natural forests as partners to fulfill each others needs. The plant genetic resources inside coffee forests are quite simply the first link in maintaining the health of the coffee forests. Biodiversity forms the foundation for sustainable coffee cultivation. Without them growing sustainable coffee would be an unattainable dream. Based on these parameters we have considered shade grown Indian coffee as COFFEE HOT SPOTS supporting a wealth of bio diversity.
TABLE 1 : NATIVE JUNGLE TREES INSIDE COFFEE FORESTS
|COMMON NAME||BOTANICAL NAME||FAMILY||HARD WOOD,SEMI HARD WOOD,SOFT WOOD (HW/SHW/SW)||ENDANGERED Yes/No|
|Neeli mara||Bischofia javanica||Bishofiaceae||SHW||No|
|Karpa Chekke||Cinnomomum malabatrum||Lauraceae||SHW||No|
|Sandel wood||Santlalum album||Santalaceae||HW||Yes|
Even though, the Westernghats where coffee is grown is considered a hotspot, no subjective research has been conducted to investigate the biological richness in geographical zones in and around the coffee plantations. For over two decades we have collected specimens and have either tried to identify the same by way of books or passed it on to Universities. Our research for the past two decades has clearly shown that the vast stretch of coffee mountains running forth thousands of miles contain a high degree of endemic species. They are also home to some of the rare medicinal plants. Scientific literature points out that the Western Ghats as a whole contains almost half of all plant species and a third of vertebrate species. Of the 372 species of mammals found in India, 63 are in the Western Ghats. 16 of these are endemic. More than 70% of land snails in the Western Ghats are threatened with extinction. The sad truth is that there are many plant and animal species which are not even known to humans. Hence it is difficult to understand the significance of various species, as there are no documents concerning them. Also, one doesn't know and may never know before it is too late, how many species of plants and animals are endangered, and how many have already disappeared.
TABLE 2: NATIVE HERBS INSIDE COFFEE FORESTS
|COMMON NAME||BOTANICAL NAME||FAMILY||MEDICINAL USE||ENDANGERED Yes/No|
|Nannari||Hemidesmes indicus||Periploceae||Haemorrhage, wounds, leprosy||No|
|Sida occuta||Malvaceae||Wounds, Diseases of Head||No|
Ganeshaiah, (2002) is of the opinion that the parameters and criteria used for defining the biological richness of a country can vary heavily. For instance, it is not clear how much weight should be attached to the endemism and species richness of a country. We are not sure if we need to attach equal importance to the species richness of plants, of beetles and of other mammals.
TABLE-3. ESTIMATED NUMBER OF SPECIES WORLD WIDE ( U. KUMAR & A.K.SHARMA, 2001)
|TAXONOMIC GROUP||NUMBER OF SPECIES|
|BLUE GREEN ALGAE||1,700|
Published: June 2007, Last Modified: September 2011