Anyone who has been to Coorg can never forget it. It’s a romantic country, full of misty hills, coffee plantations, wonderful people, delightful cuisine, and of course the river of life, the Kaveri itself. But in recent times, rampant tourism and modernization are affecting some of Coorg’s natural riches. For example, the railway line that is being planned will uproot several trees and occupy a lot of arable land. Is this a big price to pay for development? Also, tourism marketing tends to point away from traditional homesteads and instead lure travellers with luxurious, exciting but not exactly environment-friendly places. How to strike a balance between tourism, development, and conservation? One of the ways is related to the production of coffee, a chief revenue earner for Coorg and a source of much pleasure for coffee connoisseurs.
Here’s the situation: traditionally coffee has always been grown in places where there are trees. The coffee is grown between large clusters of trees because the shade is good for the plant. Strong sunlight and heat affects the crop. Secondly, growing it this way is one can preserve the trees and not uproot them in order to cultivate vast tracts of coffee. Thirdly, the trees can be additional revenue earners if managers plan it right.
But in recent times, new age growers have started getting permission to uproot trees so they can grow more coffee in the same tract of land. Naturally, the yield increases dramatically and the earnings are much higher. But as a result of this growth, there is a cost: 1) we’re losing the trees, one of Coorg’s biggest riches and a huge contributor to the country’s pleasant climate and charm and 2) the coffee generated from such tracts is not as good as what comes out of the conservative tree-shaded tract.
However, as is usually the case, the power of big business and money tends to have a bigger voice in the marketplace. But if we want to preserve Coorg as a place of natural beauty and wonder, then it’s important to be aware of the cost of development and to do our bit – as government officials, citizens, marketers, and growers.
As government officials, we should make it more profitable for coffee growers who preserve trees as they grow the coffee. It should be incentivised. We should also discourage people from removing trees to grow more coffee by introducing taxes.
As growers, we should try and not cut down trees for coffee and the lost income can be made up by diversifying into other areas, like growing other fruit yielding trees between the coffee.
As marketers, we should encourage eco-friendly tourism and advocate lifestyles that encourage the enjoyment of Coorg along with its preservation and enhancement. Tourism that draws crowds and money but that degrades the environment in the process should be discouraged. When in Coorg, respect the environment, the river and play by Coorg’s terms, not yours.
Last and not the least, what can we do as citizens? For starters, read up more. Gain more knowledge about the cost of development and about eco-friendly tourism. We all love to travel but if we can temper our love with sensitivity towards the environment, we can preserve the present for future travellers too. Encourage plantation families to stick to shade coffee as opposed to sun coffee. Be fastidious about where your coffee comes from, like how some people refuse to buy ‘blood diamonds’, diamonds extracted from the earth by using child or illegal labour.
Coorg is a kind of paradise on earth. But modernization and growth, while necessary, can quickly outshout the voice of nature. Be conscious. Be firm. Let’s do what we can to preserve the beauty of the present for the future. Shade coffee is a great place to start!