BENGALURU: Small coffee farmers can make a big difference to our environment. A new study done in Hassan, Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru says conservation of Western Ghats’ biodiversity depends on these farmers growing the arabica variety in Karnataka.
The study reveals that cultivation of all varieties of arabica coffee encourages tree species diversity which is so necessary for sustaining wildlife and its habitats. However, with 75 per cent of farms being less than 10 hectares, they sustain lesser tree species diversity, so the future of “biodiversity conservation” depends on what the small farmers choose to do on their land.
The study was done across 344 coffee farms in the three districts to assess how wildlife in coffee plantations was sustained with regard to labour scarcity, landholding size and coffee varieties. The evaluation revealed that with larger farm size, increase in canopy density and cultivation of arabica varieties, support a tree species diversity like silver oak, jackfruit, nandi, jamoon, rosewood and honne.
Scientists from Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA), Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and Indian School of Business examined farming in coffee plantations that support biodiversity. However, it revealed the fragility of such large farms as they were labour- and pesticide-intensive. The maintenance of trees requires a heavy labour force which makes up 65 per cent of input costs.
Also, with the severe dearth of labour, the small farmers tend to reduce tree canopy and tree diversity. There are several important implications from this study. Due to insufficient labour and rise in market fluctuations, many are converting their farms from Arabica to Robusta as the price difference between the two varieties is almost reaching parity.
Paul Robbins, lead author of the study, said, “As farm labour becomes scarcer and costly, we will need to work creatively with farmers to find ways for them to make wildlife-friendly decisions in turbulent marketss.” Biodiversity is the latest casualty of the pandemic-induced lockdown. Co-author Ashwini Chhatre said, “The current situation makes it harder for coffee planters to hire labour.
Our analysis shows the cascading effects will eventually impinge upon the birds and the bees. Economic policy can be used to mitigate the impact through better support for smallholder coffee producers.”
CWS Chief Conservation Scientist Krithi K Karanth said, “Our study highlights the key local linkages between economic well-being of people and their livelihoods with long-term impacts for biodiversity.”