Those used to having a sip of a strong brew to drive away fatigue will surely feel elated with the news of a new variety of coffee developed locally.
Scientists of the Khagrachhari Hill Agriculture Research Centre under the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) have developed the new variety named "BARI Coffee-1".
Officials of the research institute hope that this variety will be approved within the next two months. If approved, it will be the first variety of coffee developed locally.
Meanwhile, researchers have identified the front line of Robusta coffee by evaluating it from the collected germplasm of coffee.
After collecting and compiling the necessary data about the caste, the Agriculture Research Centre would send it to the ministry.
Director of horticulture and field crop technology extension project and horticulture scientist Dr Md Abu Taher Masud told The Business Standard, "It will be an improved variety of coffee of the 'Robasta' species. The variety is suitable for the weather of the country. Its yield is quite good and fast in hilly areas. Insect infestation is also less."
Informing that as per the rules, the information of this variety has to be sent to the Ministry of Agriculture for approval, he said, "It will be sent to the ministry of agriculture for approval very soon."
"That they will approve it after verification, it is fairly certain. After that 'BARI Coffee-1' will be released," he added confidently.
It is known that from the beginning of the '90s, research on 40 coffee plants started at the hill agricultural research centre of Khagrachhari. At that time, not much research was done. However, coffee cultivation has made great progress in the last five to seven years.
Although there are 60 species of coffee in the world, only two of them are commercially cultivable. They are 'Coffee Robusta' and 'Coffee Arabica'.
'Robasta' variety of coffee is very suitable for the climate of Bangladesh. It usually thrives at altitudes of 500-1000mm above sea level and 1000-2000mm of rainfall. Besides, it is possible to expand it in the highlands and Madhupurgarh in Tangail.
Processing machine invention
Khagrachhari Hill Agricultural Research Centre Chief Scientific Officer Dr Munshi Rashid Ahmed said, "One of the problems in its processing and marketing is that coffee cultivation is not popular among farmers here.
"Engineers have already developed four types of processing equipment to solve this problem – coffee pulper machine, de-hauler, roaster and grinder, which the farmers can buy at very low prices," he said, adding that in total, these devices can be bought for Tk1-1.25 lakh; whereas the cost of importing these devices from abroad is around Tk5-6 lakh.
"With these equipment, farmers will be able to market coffee commercially after initial processing which will be a new milestone for the farmers of this hilly region.
Coffee will boost local economy
Various fruits and crops including turmeric, amrapali, banana, and jackfruit have already contributed to the economy of Chattogram Hill Tracts.
Agricultural scientists are hopeful that the newly invented coffee will further boost the economy of the region. They see a lot of potential in coffee cultivation as the hill soil is suitable for its cultivation and is not perishable.
The scientists said in the meantime, many small and large garden owners in the hills have become interested in coffee cultivation. Many people are also planting coffee plants on their own initiative.
During a recent visit to a garden near Khagrachhari town where 395 plants of the newly invented Robusta variety have produced coffee in bunches, the workers were seen filling the baskets with the brown ones.
Birubala Tripura, a worker, said they have been collecting ripe coffee since December last. Now it is almost to an end. They will give it to the hill agricultural research centre, where it will be processed.
Another 200 Arabica seedlings have been planted in the garden under the Hill Agriculture Research Centre, said Balindra Tripura, caretaker of the garden.
He said seven to eight kg of coffee can be harvested from each tree in one season. Flowers begin to appear within three years after planting. Last year, they were able to extract 450 kg of coffee from this garden. He is expecting to get such a yield this year as well.
In addition to these gardens, seven more coffee gardens have been established in Khagrachhari and three in Sajek with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. One thousand coffee saplings were planted in each. By 2022, the orchards will be fully harvested, said the concerned agriculture officials.
"If the farmers can expand the cultivation of this coffee through proper training, it will make an important contribution to the economy of Bangladesh," said Dr Munshi Rashid Ahmed, chief scientific officer of Khagrachhari Hill Agricultural Research Centre.
He said coffee cultivation does not cause any damage to hills or other crops. As coffee is a desert plant, it can be easily cultivated as a mixed crop with forest plants in light shade without irrigation.
Diseases are less likely to attack coffee trees while coffee does not rot. After the post-harvest process, it can be sold for up to a year.
However, besides the benefits, the officials also talked about some challenges. They said the big challenge of coffee is that care and post-harvest processing has to be done very carefully. This requires training. Apart from this, no marketing organisation has been formed yet. As a result, it has to be sold on individual initiative.
They, however, expressed hope that if these two challenges can be tackled, it will be possible to reduce coffee imports within the next four to five years.
Coffee produced in the country can be exported abroad after meeting the local demand. For this, marketing requires private sector entrepreneurs, proper knowledge, skills and improved seedlings.
Sudarshan Dutta, director of the Khagrachhari Chamber of Commerce, said the Khagrachhari BSCIC industrial city could be used as there is commercial potential for coffee cultivation in the hill tracts. If it is possible to build a processing factory there, this coffee will become one of the cash crops in the future.