CHIKKAMAGALURU: Tigers and gaurs roaming in coffee estates may sound scary. But ‘wildlife coffee’, a concept where wild animals are allowed to thrive in coffee estates, is a nascent practice, but is slowly and surely catching up in Chikkamagaluru district.
Having adopted wildlife-friendly practices across 770 acres, a few planters have won the ‘wildlife-friendly’ certification from the US-based WFEN (Wildlife-Friendly Enterprise Network) organisation.
Cultivating Arabica coffee under the shade of tree canopies, these estates have emerged as critical refuges and corridors for tigers, gaurs, sambars, antelopes, porcupines, amphibians, reptiles and also hundreds of bird species.
Further, efforts are on to educate farm labourers and others to tolerate wildlife on estates. For instance, bonnet macaques relish fruits while porcupines feed on pepper juice. However, a large planter is prepared to sustain such losses while a marginal farmer is unable to bear the crop losses caused by wildlife.
The New Indian Express visited one such coffee estate in Jakkanahalli village outside the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The estate’s tree cover includes Ficus, jamun, jackfruit, red cedar and small shrub trees to provide secondary shade to coffee plants. Gaurs can be seen on the hill ranges as they have no problem ascending the sloped grasslands.
Not only is the availability of food good in the estate, they also have a chance to breed. The gaurs get good grass and water throughout the year. Further, a particular method of cultivation is followed which helps wildlife thrive as they have water, food and shelter to breed.
For four generations, Sridev Hulikere’s family has grown coffee at an altitude of 1,325 metres above sea level.
The coffee is nurtured in the midst of one of the top 10 biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Sharing space with hundreds of bird species, amphibians, reptiles and mammals including tigers, the distinct aroma of the Arabica coffee has been certified as wildlife-friendly. Further, coffee cannot be sprayed with pesticides and banned chemicals for protecting big/small animals including the ground life.
Hulikere says, “We see gaurs on our estates regularly. About 150 years ago, our estate and surrounding areas were jungles, all tropical rainforests and home to a range of species. Even now, there is indirect evidence of tiger presence, like scat, pug marks, etc. Keeping our fence porous is necessary to allow wildlife to freely walk around our estate. We are trying to popularise wildlife-friendly coffee and getting India-specific standards.”
Between 1904 and 1972, a lot of forest land was legally converted to coffee estates in Chikkamagaluru. Now is the time for more farmers to adopt wildlife-friendly practices, adds wildlife conservationist D V Girish.
“The coffee landscapes present ideal conditions for promoting wildlife-friendly practices in its cultivation and production. And it looks as if it is beginning, but more needs to be done to bring in awareness among farmers.”
The estates which have adopted these practices say awareness campaigns are on. If some farmers are receptive, others are cautious and they may take up in the future.
With climatic changes happening, tolerance to wildlife is critical and their needs have to be understood by people living on the edge of forests.