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An overview of the Indian coffee-growing sector

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India is widely known as the original home of the tea leaves we love in our daily brews, but did you know the country has a successful coffee-growing sector too?

As the sixth biggest coffee-producing location in the world, the state of the industry in India is certainly interesting to explore.

Here, we're going to look at the history of coffee in the area, at how the country's agricultural industry has developed over the years and at what the future looks like for growers in the region.

India's coffee history

Coffee was first planted in India in the early 17th century by saint Baba Budan in his courtyard in the Karnataka area. The plants were simply an interesting feature of the legendary figure's garden for some time, but marked the beginnings of widespread coffee growing in the country.

By the 18th century, wealthy people from England had begun to settle in India as the British Empire was being established. The harsh terrain in the south of the country was taken over by these entrepreneurs, who set up commercial plantations that focused on growing the crop on a large scale.

Nowadays, the country's coffee is primarily grown in the naturally shady regions of the western and eastern Ghats, where it contributes significantly to both social and economical development in the more remote, hilly parts of India, with both Arabica and Robusta varieties being grown.

Agricultural sustainability

Like in any region of the world, India's agricultural sector needs to involve a certain degree of sustainability to ensure it is successful.

As farming – whether that be coffee crops, tea leaves or other substances – provides a livelihood for a significant number of people in the country and has done for many years, practices have been developed over the centuries to ensure the industry can remain sustainable.

For instance, farmers in India use methods such as crop rotation and mixed cropping, as well as employing pest management techniques to ensure their produce is of the highest possible quality. 

However, widespread use of chemicals in agriculture has affected the country in the past, but its coffee-growing sector continues to thrive, with figures showing the agrarian population in India grew by 50 per cent during 1980 and 2011, when many other industries in the world were struggling to remain successful.

As India is a vast and varied country with vibrant hubs such as New Delhi and Mumbai providing a huge contrast to the rural hills where the region's coffee is grown, an adequate amount of attention needs to be given to both by the Indian government to make sure the work being done by farmers to grow the widely traded beans is being recognised.

Life for local growers

Much of the coffee produced in India is grown in plantations, although there is a cooperative system in place in the country to help to provide support for farmers with small lots.

There are several programmes in place to ensure the wellbeing of growers in the region, such as Nestle's Nescafe Plan.

The brand states: "Nestle aims to provide farmers with high-yielding, disease resistant plantlets developed by its research and development teams. Through the initiative, the company seeks to source coffee sustainably by working closely with Indian coffee farmers and ensuring competitive prices, transparency and traceability."

As much of the coffee cultivation takes place in the rural areas of India, growing the crop can help farmers stay out of the depths of poverty, providing them with a small income.

What does the future hold?

There are factors that could affect the success of coffee growing in India, such as climate change and the threat of crop diseases like coffee rust, but these could present problems in any country.

Striving for agricultural sustainability needs to remain a priority to ensure coffee growers can continue to produce high-quality beans to be exported to roasters and traders around the world, like us here at DR Wakefield.

We work closely with several exporters in the country, as well as with individual plantations to ensure we can provide our roasters with beans sourced from specific estates.

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