7 Feb 2014

Chandragiri: Moon Mountain of Brown Gold

Coffee connoisseurs from over the world were introduced to the seeds of a new variety of Arabica plant called Chandragiri by the Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI) in December 2007. Since then, the ‘Brown Gold’s’ aroma and flavour has magnetised the coffee lovers from different parts of the world. The Chandragiri plant, which was introduced to the coffee planters in India for commercial exploitation, received good response from them and since then there has been a huge demand for the seed.   
The folklore goes like this that around four hundred years ago, a young saint named Baba Budan set sail for Mecca. Tired of travel, the pilgrim stopped for some refreshment at a street stall, where he was dished out a small cup of a dark, sweet liquid. Sipping the thick black brew rejuvenated the young saint. He thereby decided to carry it back home for his people. 
But, on the other hand, he also came to know that the Arabians guarded their secret fiercely, and hence the local law would not allow him to carry it with him. Hence, thereafter, Baba Budan strapped the seven seeds of the Arabian coffee plant to his belly, undetected under his ritual garments. After coming to his motherland, Baba Budan raised the seedlings in the Chandragiri hills of Karnataka. Today those seven charming seeds have grown into different varities, and has resulted in the world’s widest range of coffees from a single country.
The Chandragiri is a semi-dwarf variety, with its bush growth vigorous in comparison to other dwarf coffee varieties like Cauvery and San Ramon. Its leaves are broader, thick and dark green in colour. It is to be noted that this variety produces relatively bolder and longer beans compared to other Arabica selection.
It is interesting to note that the feedback from the coffee growers on the field performance of this variety is very encouraging. The genetic uniformity, the initial crop yields and the field tolerance to leaf rust have also been reported to be good. Along with this, the majority of growers used Chandragiri for gap filling purposes or interlined them in the existing plots.
It has also been observed that if the ideal cultivation practices are followed, then there is no significant difference with respect to the yield performance of the various semi-dwarf varieties like Catuai x HDT and Chandragiri. Apart from this, the Chandragiri variety followed by Catuai x HDT manifest good field tolerance to rust compared to other semi-dwarf varieties. The Chandragiri variety also has a definite advantage with respect to superior grade percentages as over 70 per cent of the beans belong to 'A' grade on average, of which 25- 30 per cent belong to AA grade with superior bean density. When compared to other varieties, the per cent of 'A' grade beans range between 60-65 per cent with 15-20 per cent AA grade.
The researchers have also observed that disease development in the Chandragiri variety is very late compared to other semi-dwarf varieties. Along with this, the disease severity is also low (less than 5 per cent). But when it comes to tolerance to the coffee white stem borer, like all other Arabica varieties, Chandragiri also does not possess genetic resistance to this major pest. 
The white stem borer is the most serious pest of Arabica coffee in India and other South East Asian countries. However, under ideal growing conditions i.e. two tier mixed shade and above 1000 metres MSL (Main Sea level) i.e. 3300 ft, generally low incidence of the pest is noticed. This is because of the vigorous bush stature with drooping branches and high retention of foliage due to rust tolerance, which might act as a physical barrier to white stem borer adults to attack the main stem. 
Maintenance of optimum shade (preferably two tier shade) and regular tracing and destruction of the infested plants is a must to control the pest. Further, other recommended pest management strategies such as, 10 per cent lime application, use of pheromone traps and stem wrapping etc. may be practiced depending on the necessity.

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