Organic Coffee production in Nepal: Status and Opportunities
Organic Coffee production is one of the foremost commercial aspects of the agriculture in Nepal. Coffee is considered as major cash crops with increasing demand of organic coffee in both national and international markets. In Nepal, coffee was first planted in 1938 AD after a hermit planted coffee seeds in Gulmi brought from Myanmar and distributed to other regions. Later on, Nepal Coffee Company established in 1983/84 commercialized coffee farming. Now, coffee is being cultivated on 42 districts in the mid hills of Nepal covering an area of more than 2646 ha of land with an average production rate of 517 Mt of green beans. Gulmi, Pyuthan, Palpa, Argakhanchi, Lalitpur, Tanahu, Kavre, Lamjung, Kaski, Syangja, Parbat and Baglung are some major districts well known for coffee production. This fiscal year, through Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP), the government has identified the five districts Palpa, Arghakhachi, Gulmi, Syangja and Pyuthan as the Super zone for coffee production.
Nepal is Exporting Coffee beans mostly to Japan, USA, Canada, South Korea, and European countries. The demand of Nepalese specialty coffee is growing in the global market as it contains a reduced amount of caffeine. Though Coffee has high value, it is difficult to grow as it requires excessive care in all the stages- cultivation and coffee processing stages.
Many international organizations have recognized Nepal has suitable climate for coffee production. The major cultivar grown in Nepal is ‘Arabica’ (Coffea arabica) but Nepal has given a new type of coffee to the world – Himalayan Arabica Coffee, which is a slight twist in the original Arabica Coffee, triggered due to the difference in the soil, water, altitude and climate of Nepal. Coffee is grown best from altitude 800 to1600 masl which is also known as coffee belt. Coffee plants can bear fruits for nearly 70 years after planting once and considered as a multigenerational crop in Nepal.
Organic coffee is produced without using any kind of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Several researches and surveys done in Nepal shows that local farmers use organic manure and organic pesticides as their inputs. Organic manures like FYM, vermi-compost, organic solution are used for the nutrient supplement and pest management. Coffee growers prepare organic solution by using locally available plants and other materials available naturally in the growing areas. The main threats are invasive insect pests, drought, intense rainfall events and increased average temperatures. Common diseases in coffee farms are anthracnose, twig dieback, summer dieback, stalk rot of berries and leaves, brown blight of leaves, leaf rust, berry blotch, wilting, damping off and brown eye spot. Xylotrechus quadripes is major coffee pest known in Nepal. These problems can be cope up with the use of botanical pesticide called “jaibik bishadi” with “EM.1” (effective microorganisms) prepared locally and cultural practices like intercropping such as planting coffee alongside plants that hold water in soil and provide coffee with the shade from intense sunlight.
Naturally grown ripe coffee cherry is selectively harvested by hand and processed manually. There are two methods of processing coffee – wet processing and dry processing. In wet processing, harvested coffee is pulped right after harvesting with mini hand pulper while in dry processing cherries are harvested and dried in sun at the farm level. The cherries are raked and turn down throughout the day to prevent from spoiling which takes 3-6 weeks to be ready for being pulped. After pulping, the beans are left in a sack overnight. Beans are hand washed next morning to remove husks and then left to dry on trays in the open air. Once the coffee is dried, it is ready for storage. Farmers store beans until the full harvesting and then purchasing point will collect dry parchments from local farmers for further processing and delivering to domestic and international markets.
In various coffee producing districts parallel marketing channel is followed which includes farmers groups, cooperatives, processors and traders. Farmers group and cooperative are in connection with processing and export company through which our organic coffee reached to international markets. In some cases, District Coffee Producers Associations (DCPAs) of related districts helps in collection of the dry parchment and sold it to the processors. After processing, traders sell the roasted beans and ground coffee in the local market in diverse trade names and prices and green bean is exported to the global market. Nepal exports mainly as green beans in preference to roasted beans.
Price of the coffee is determined by NTCDB (Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board) and varies according to the different grades of coffee beans. The grades are separated as Fresh cherry Grade-A (FC-A), Fresh cherry Grade-B (FC-B), Parchment Grade-A (P-A), Parchment Grade-B (P-B), Dry Cherry Grade A (DC-A), Dry Cherry Grade B(DC-B), Dry Cherry Grade C(DC-C). The price of the P-A grade is highest whereas DC-C has lowest market value.
Most of the coffee growing areas lies in the remote areas where external chemical inputs are still not available consequently land is free from agro-chemicals. A new research carried by government has asserted that around 96 per cent of coffee that Nepal produced is organic, also called ‘organic by default’. The Department of Industry granted the trademark ‘The Himalayan Specialty Nepal Coffee’ after the Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB) applied in May 2007. This trademark is identification of the Nepalese Organic coffee to the national and international consumer.
Although the climatic condition are favorable various complications are pushing farmers backward to take start up for commercial coffee farming. Local farmers are facing lack of coffee technicians, quality seeds/saplings and risk of loss caused by diseases and pests. Coffee plants takes 3-4 year to give economic output, which can be challenging for farmers who solely rest on agriculture for financial resources.
Thus, Government level concerns and policies are required to promote and encourage the coffee plantation in farmers’ level. Participation at international trade fairs, creation of brands, group organic certification, collection of feedback from consumers, establishment of private coffee entrepreneurs can be beneficial strategies to promote coffee farming in Nepal. In the current situation, governmental organizations such as NARC and NTCDB and various I/NGOs are working for research and extension in coffee cultivation and processing in Nepal. Government is correspondingly trying to boost up the small-scale production and unify marginal farmers through foundation of zone and super zone regions. Training and skill development programs are provided by different organization such as NCPA (Nepal Coffee Producers Association) to maintain sustainable production of high-quality coffee.
The demand of coffee is increasing as people are being aware of several health benefits of organic coffee consumption. It gives energy and makes active and fresh, reduce stress, boost short-term memory, burns fat, prevent cancer and heart disease. Green coffee beans are also linked with anti-aging properties and weight loss. Farmers are encouraged by the domestic demand and increase in coffee consumption by the coffee shops popping up here and there. 60% of the coffee produced is being exported as they fetch higher price in global market. The international demand of Nepalese coffee is significant, more than 10,000 MT but we are able to attain only 5% of this demand. This clearly depicts that there is additional market available for export of coffee. Coffee plantation in Nepal is exceedingly important not only to advance agricultural sector but as the financial backbone of the rural farmers and the whole nation. Thus, if we utilize the potential of Nepalese soil and climate for Organic coffee production, definitely it will uplift the socio-economic condition of marginalized and rural farmers.