The Times of India report, “A ‘coffee cure’ for adverse effects of climate change” (Apr. 13, 2016) describes a contrarian thinking that Kerala needs more of.
The report says, “Conservation and agriculture experts in Wayanad  are in the affirmative and have mooted revitalization of historic ‘shade grown coffee plantation’ system in Wayanad as the best defense against the adverse effects of climate acutely being felt in the hill district.”
It is a step in the right direction, and need to be taken further. “For centuries coffee used to be grown in an agro-forest ecosystem with coffee plants grown under the thick green canopy provided by tall shade trees,” said N Anil Kumar, director of the biodiversity program of M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF.) However, reviving ‘shade coffee’ is only the first step. There need to be a robust framework for effective marketing of Kerala agro-products. Due to the unique geographic characteristics of Kerala, it must be possible to grow premium quality coffee and other agro-products. Then effective marketing programs and distribution channels need to be developed and implemented to obtain premium pricing for Kerala agro-products.
The report also says, “Experts say that shade grown coffee would provide enhanced income generation for farmers as it commands a premium in global markets.” Labor cost being high in Kerala, premium pricing is the only viable option. Also important is to identify coffee varieties that grow well in Kerala and have high demand. It would also be worthwhile to create new varieties.
Such smart agriculture methods can also be adopted for pepper. cashew, spices, and enhanced with promotional programs similar to those by the tourism department. The goal is to establish Kerala as a source for premium organic agro-products. Another brand enhancing activity is processing and packaging. Rather than exporting raw produce, processing and packaging facilities must also be established. Without consumer-ready packaging achieving premium branding is difficult or impossible. In addition, food professing, packaging and marketing creates job opportunities in the local economy. (However, Kerala government should not start new agencies for this purpose. Instead enable new and existing businesses to take advantage of these opportunities.)
‘Shade coffee’ product is a smart idea that need to be fully developed. And similar smart agriculture methods can help revive organic agriculture in Kerala.
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