Kalimpong, Nov. 29: What tea is to Darjeeling, will coffee be to Kalimpong? A few more years and the answer will be there but for now the seeds of such a possibility have been planted.
Bongbusty, a picturesque village with terraced paddy fields, 3km from here, is where a project to introduce coffee farming in the hills has begun.
The experiment was started two years ago when Gopal Dixit and his brother Robin of Dixitgaon in Bongbusty replaced paddy plants with coffee seedlings in their fields.
The idea of cultivating coffee came from their cousin Deo Dixit, a coffee consultant based in Bhutan.
“We had been planting paddy in our fields for years. However, diminishing yield and non-availability of farm hands had made it non-sustainable. This is why we decided to experiment with coffee on a small scale,” said Gopal.
The Dixits have planted coffee seeds on their 6-acre plot. The trees are now two years old and they will take another year or two to mature.
“An acre of land can accommodate around 700 to 2,000 trees depending on the space between the plants and the variety of coffee. An acre of land can yield between 500 and 1,000kg of green beans,” said Deo. He said 1kg of green coffee beans could fetch between $3 and $5 in the international market.
The Dixits have planted Arabica coffee in their field.
“Arabica is a better variety of coffee and is grown in higher altitudes. The climate of Kalimpong is nice and warm and is right for coffee plantation. Many people here grow coffee as an ornamental plant in their gardens. I have hand crushed some of the beans and tasted them. They are really good,” said Deo.
He added that if the coffee experiment is successful then it could be good news for the farmers here.
“Coffee plants do not require much looking after. The money from selling the beans also remains with the farmers. A large number of people from the rural areas will also be gainfully employed,” he added.
Residents of Bongbusty are waiting for the experiment to bear fruit before they too wake up to the prospect of maximising profits from the land by planting coffee.
“If the experiment is successful and coffee farming gets necessary support from all people concerned, then Kalimpong can be on the coffee map of the world,” said Deo.