Arecanut as an Intercrop Crop inside Shade Coffee

Indian shade grown coffee is always associated with one or the other multiple crops like Arecanut, Orange, Cardamom, Pepper, Oil palm, cocoa and banana. These multi crops grow luxuriantly along with Coffee and establish a symbiotic role where in one crop acts as an anchor to the other. These multi crops also provide a unique taste to Indian Coffee because of the mutualistic and synergistic interaction of the root rhizosphere and endorhizosphere dynamics with that of Coffee. The areca provides filtered shade to coffee and the coffee ecosystem provides the much needed biotic component for the luxurious growth of areca. Additional income is generated by planting pepper on to the areca.


More importantly, multi crops act as an insurance by providing a lifeline to the Coffee Planter in times of distress, especially when the prices of the second largest traded commodity in the world, namely Coffee, hits rock bottom.


The interesting aspect is that Coffee provides a unique ecosystem where in many different multiple crops grow along with coffee without adversely affecting the coffee yields. This is made possible because of the differential root system of associated crops. Arecanut being a highly profitable commercial plantation crop can be effortlessly inter planted in certain ecological niches within the coffee ecosystem in areas such as valleys, flooded areas and places with topography like steep valleys etc.


Joe’s Sustainable Coffee Farm has introduced Arecanut cultivation along with Robusta, namely Selection Robusta variety S-274 and C x R.

Robusta’s Coffee

S.274 Coffee:

This variety of coffee is the most widely used coffee across the major Robusta coffee growing regions, and is a selection that was made from the high yielding old Robusta coffee collection brought to India from Sri Lanka. The bushes of this coffee plant are strong and can be adapted across regions. The beans of S.274 coffee are bold, round and greyish in colour after wet processing.


CxR Coffee:

CxR coffee is a cross-breed between Coffea congenisis and Robusta coffee. The bushes of this coffee plant are more compact, with smaller and narrower leaves compared to conventional Robusta coffee plants. Beans of this variety of coffee are bold in size, with soft and neutral features in the cup, which sets them apart from conventional Robusta’s coffee.


Arecanut is easily adapted to the Western Ghats where coffee is cultivated on a commercial scale. Generally, Coffee grows well within a temperature range of 21 degree centigrade right up to 32 degree centigrade. This aids arecanut cultivation too. However Arecanut does not prefer higher elevations and grows best at 1000 to 1500 meters mean sea level. Hence, the Cultivation of areca is restricted to the lower elevations, preferably in valleys and low lying paddy fields. It can also tolerate heavy rainfall in the range of 750 to 4500 mm.



The Coffee ecosystem is gifted with a wide variety of soils from sandy loam to clay and arecanut is capable of growing in most of the soils fit for coffee cultivation. Well drained soils is a prerequisite for the successful establishment of young plants and yields are also proportional to the extent of drainage and aeration provided in the soil system. As the young plants start growing, the root system starts growing closer to the soil surface and this exposure of roots to the sun is not a desirable trait. Hence, periodically, new soil has to be brought in to cover the root system. This aspect increases the cost of cultivation significantly.

Soil Ph

Areca requires soils which are neutral in hydrogen ion concentration and can withstand a ph range of 5.5 up to 6.5. Hence lime application is carried out every alternate year depending on the soil ph characteristics.

Legumes as a soil enricher

Since a significant portion of the areca cultivation inside Joe’s Ecofriendly coffee farm is restricted to wetlands, the soils are poor in nutrients and need to be improved in terms of texture , structure and nutrient status.

We achieve this by cultivating different types of legumes like daincha and sesbania and ploughing them back into the soil 45 days after broadcasting the legume seed. The nitrogen fixing nodules in the legumes add on to the nitrogen pool and enrich the soil significantly.

Plant Varieties

Generally, two varieties of arecanut are the main stay inside coffee, namely Theerthahalli and Mangala Variety. The Teerthahalli variety is a traditional variety and Mangala is a high yielding variety. The traditional variety is more drought tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases.



Teerthahalli (Traditional) Tall Oblong, Small 3  –  3.5 Malnad

(High Yield Variety)

Semi Tall Round, Small 3  –  4.5 Coastal Karnataka, Parts of Malnad.

((High Yield Variety)

Tall Oval to round 3.5  – 4.00 Malnad



Young one year seedlings are planted in pits of about 90 cm x 90 cm x 90 cm at a spacing of 2.75 m either way and covered with soil to the collar level and pressed around.  Providing shade during summer months during the first for years of establishment is a prerequisite and this can be provided with growing Banana or other crops in advance. In the initial years sowing castor seeds will also help.

Farm yard manure (FYM)


Areca responds extremely well to farm yard manure. Compost helps in the build-up of native soil enriching microorganisms and help in building up resistance to pests and diseases. It also enables the mined paddy soils in improving the water holding capacity.

Special Care


Adequate protection from exposure to South Western sun is very essential to avoid sun scorch. Applying lime up to three to four feet on the stem during summer months helps in the reflection of sunlight and protects the plants from sun scorch. Depending on the Eastern or Western slope, shade trees and wind barriers need to be put in place well in advance of planting young areaca seedlings. This enables quick establishment in the field without affecting the root system.

Water requirement

Areca requires water during the summer months and cannot tolerate drought conditions even for a small period of time. Hence small pop up sprinklers are permanently installed inside the coffee blocks inter planted with areca and irrigation is provided at weekly intervals. If streams or tank water is available, then flood irrigation can also be carried out. Generally, a full grown areca tree of 10 to 12 years requires 200 liters of water each day.

Manuring & Fertilizers

Traditional areca varieties like Theerthahalli respond very well to farm yard manure application. At Joe’s sustainable farm we apply approximately 15 kg of compost along with neem seeds to each tree every alternate year and also apply two rounds of fertilizers with nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. Care is taken to reduce the nitrogenous fertilizers as the tree ages. Areca trees above 5 years, fertilizer in the ratio of 100:40:140 g of NPK/ tree/ year can be applied. To palms less than five years old, half of the above dose is recommended. Manures are applied during summer and monsoon in a basin of 0.75-1.00 m radius around the tree to a depth of 20 – 30 cm. Once in 5 years, a circular pit, six inches in depth at a distance of three feet away from the areca stem is excavated and filled up with green manure, compost and covered with soil.





Bud rot or Mahali disease ,Foot rot or Anabe, Yellow Leaf Disease, Leaf spot, Nut crack.


Plant protection

We spray the trees with 1 per cent copper sulphate twice a year. First, just before the onset of the monsoon and second spray , 45 days after the first spray.


Black pepper, coffee



The bearing starts after 5 to 8 years of planting depending on the Agro Climatic region. Nuts are harvested when they are three quarters ripe. The number of harvests will vary from three to five in one year depending upon the season and place of cultivation.



An average of about 1000 to 1250 kg/ha can be obtained.


Anand T Pereira and Geeta N Pereira. 2009. Shade Grown Ecofriendly Indian Coffee. Volume-1.

Bopanna, P.T. 2011.The Romance of Indian Coffee. Prism Books ltd.

The Directorate of Arecanut and Spices Development

The Growing Flavour Of Indian Coffee

Arecanut (Areca catechu L.) Palmae

Oil Palm Plantations & Ecofriendly Shade Coffee

Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa. These plantations grow luxuriantly in tropical places with abundant sunshine and rain. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Many scientific reports state that oil palm cultivation is cultivated without using sustainable measures.


Fuelled by the growing demand for palm oil for cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel, especially in China, India, and the Middle East, government and industry leaders are seeking to expand production to an additional 1.4 million hectares of new plantations by 2010. Malaysian Oil Palm has recently been introduced in India and it’s cultivation in Coffee zones is supported by the concerned State Governments by way of inputs and subsidies. The State Government through the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture, generally provide government-subsidized loans to smallholders to cover seedlings, fertilizer, and other supplies. Oil palm trees take about seven years to bear fruit.

We are trying to give a realistic picture on oil palm cultivation and its implications to the coffee forest ecosystem. We have cultivated oil palm in a small area for the past 10 years as a mixed crop with Robusta, Arabica, Silver Oak and pepper. We would also like to make it clear that the area devoted towards oil palm cultivation was land originally fit for rice cultivation which includes both wetlands and up lands.

Coffee Forests in India are shade grown and are closely associated with wet lands. These wetlands in low lying areas are often waterlogged for over 3 to 4 months in a year and are generally used to cultivate one or two crops of rice. It is important to note that many coffee growing Agro climatic regions do not receive long sun shine hours starting from the month of June, right up to end of December. Hence, Coffee Planters generally grow the long duration “LOCAL “rice variety, commonly known as red rice. This variety of rice though low yielding in comparison to hybrids, is more nutritious and requires only organic manure to grow unlike the heavy input of fertilizers required by High yielding varieties. In addition to the superior quality of rice, these traditional varieties also yield long bales of straw preferred by indigenous cattle.


Ecological Implications of converting wetlands into oil palm plantations

Wetlands act as sponges and are instrumental in recharging the ground water. Drastic reduction in water table because of the conversions.

Wetlands act as stop over sites for migratory birds for rest and refuelling during their onward journey. The conversion of marsh and aquatic habitats has serious implications on the amount of protein available for both resident and migratory fauna.

Wetlands act as grazing land for indigenous cattle because they remain fallow for 6 months in a year.

Why Coffee Planters are converting Wetlands to Oil Palm Plantations?

The cost of traditional rice varieties even though slighter higher than the high yielding varieties, the cost benefit ratio is in the negative because of low yields.

Since the topography of wetlands is like a terrace, the use of Agriculture machinery for transplanting and harvesting is ruled out.

The fields have also been subdivided and fragmented from one generation to the next , hence hindering rice cultivation.


Paddy operations are very labor intensive and Due to acute shortage of labour, a vast majority of the Planters kept their lands fallow.

The introduction of canal irrigation in neighbouring Taluk’s and Districts, make it possible for the large scale introduction of photo sensitive, sun loving high yielding rice varieties of short duration, thereby enabling the farmers to cultivate two crops in a year which is highly remunerative in comparison to the long duration low yielding traditional rice varieties.

Problems Associated With Oil Palm

Among the many problems associated with these oil palm plantations, the drainage prepared to help the growth of oil palm and mixed crops, significantly affects the water table of the entire coffee zone.


Mono culture oil palm plantations are miners of the soil. They only deplete the nutrients and do not give back anything in return to the soil.

Biodiversity loss in terms of flora and fauna.

Future Concerns

In the race to be more self-reliant in edible oil production, the Government may hastily open up new areas exclusively devoted for oil palm cultivation. This in turn may lead to large scale loss of forest cover and habitat degradation. This in turn will have a ripple effect which will push many species to extinction.

Conflict Oil Palm


Looking back at the history of oil palm plantation, credible reports suggest that, Conflict Palm Oil has become ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Conflict Palm Oil production is now one of the world’s leading causes of rain forest destruction. Oil Palm Plantation expansion is pushing deep into the heart of some of the world’s most culturally and biologically diverse ecosystems. It has also resulted in irreplaceable loss of biodiversity and mega fauna. World over, clearing of rain forests and carbon-rich peat lands for new plantations is releasing globally significant carbon pollution, making Conflict Palm Oil a major driver of human induced climate change.

The increase in palm oil demand will lead to the accelerated seizure of indigenous peoples’ land, further dismantling local communities and cultures.


How to Overcome This Crisis

The Government should mandate the protection of wetlands across the coffee forests and pay a handsome compensation to the growers to maintain the wetland ecology.

Ban the introduction of oil palm in Coffee Plantations which are rich in organic and humus material.

Introduce oil palm only in marginal areas and areas unfit for coffee and multiple crops.

Experiment with multi crops together with oil palm


Introduce nitrogen fixing cover crops to enrich the soil

Introduce indigenous trees on the fence line and part of the area.

Ear mark a part of the land for rain water harvesting.


Introduce dadaps as temporary shade till the establishment of the multiple crops

Application of lime and compost every alternative year to maintain a favourable hydrogen ion concentration.

Encourage regrowth of native species in border areas.

Work with the soil in terms of scuffle digging and deep digging every alternate year to aerate the soil.

Apply heavy doses of compost every alternate year.


Coffee forests in India are known to nurture one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in South Asia. On the other hand, oil palm Plantations are linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction. World over, oil palms grow in low lying wet tropical areas, where the rain forests grow. We cannot let this happen inside coffee forests.


The basic rule that the coffee Planters need to follow in cultivating oil palm plantations, is to safe guard the environmental or social impact to the Coffee Ecosystem. Care to be taken to see that no oil palm cultivation takes place in lands which was originally used to grow coffee. Coffee lands are gifted with fertile soils and due to the mixed cropping associated with heterogeneous trees, there is a constant recycling of nutrients, maintaining the soil fertility for future generations and an incredible amount of biodiversity in terms of flora and fauna.

Instead oil palm cultivation should be restricted towards marginal lands or denuded lands unfit for cultivation of any plantation crops.



Anand T Pereira and Geeta N Pereira. 2009. Shade Grown Ecofriendly Indian Coffee. Volume-1.

Bopanna, P.T. 2011.The Romance of Indian Coffee. Prism Books ltd.

Oil palm ecology




Oil Palm Industry Takes Land

U.K. Biofuels Sources