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7 Jul 2018

Coffee to keep tea company in hills

Coffee saplings being distributed among farmers at a village in Kalimpong . File picture

TT, Darjeeling: Coffee is set to make its debut in the Darjeeling hills which have so far been synonymous with tea.

The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration has decided to give a thrust to coffee plantation in Kalimpong district and picked 407 farmers who have started growing coffee in an area spread over 345.72 acres.

The directorate of cinchona and other medicinal plants has been identified as the nodal agency and is collaborating with the agriculture and horticulture departments of the GTA.

"We plan to brand it as Kalimpong Coffee and the thrust is on organic cultivation," said Samuel Rai, director, cinchona plantations.

Four village clusters, comprising 34 villages in Kalimpong 1 and Kalimpong 2 blocks, have been formed.

"They are named as Loley, Bhalukhop, Algarah and Gitabling clusters," said Rai.

To start with, the villagers were selected on the basis of their willingness to grow coffee. "Traditional cash crops like ginger, cardamom, oranges are not doing well and we realised that coffee could be a good alternative. We first spoke to the villagers and identified 407 willing farmers," said Rai.

The majority of the 87 tea gardens in the hills are concentrated in Darjeeling district. But only six estates can sell their produce as "Darjeeling Tea" and are located in Kalimpong.

"Kalimpong is ideal for coffee plantation as the plant needs a temperature ranging from 20 to 32 degrees Celsius. Coffee is being cultivated by few individuals successfully and we have conducted the trials," said Madhav Chhetri, a senior scientific officer of the GTA horticulture department.

The GTA has ordered for 7.20 lakh coffee saplings from nurseries in Karnataka which are certified by Coffee Board of India. "About 1 lakh saplings have already arrived. We are planting Chandragiri variety, which is suitable in the area and is both trunk borer and coffee rust-resistant."

"All the growers will be trained by experts from the coffee board and within the next few months, 40 farmers from the clusters will be taken to Karnataka for further training," said Chhetri who was also sent to the southern state for a training recently.

The GTA is currently investing Rs 2 crore in the first phase of the project. "At the moment, we are distributing saplings and providing the farmers with 75 percent subsidy," said Chhetri.

The GTA has decided to set up dry and wet processing units.

Coffee from Kalimpong was also sent to the coffee board for tests. "The results are encouraging and we only need to concentrate on the high moisture level during production," said Rai.

The GTA officials said initial estimate suggests that a coffee plant bears 6 to 8 kg of green coffee that commands a price of Rs 20 per kilogram in the market.

"If we can hold on to this estimate, then we are looking at selling our produce for around Rs 8 crore. This would be a great start for a project where we are initially investing Rs 2 crore," said Chhetri.

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