Learning the basics of black pepper cultivation

Kodagu, the coffee land of Karnataka, is also known as a major producer of black pepper. Many pepper growers here have opted for innovative methods to get a good and sustainable yield. One such grower is M G Hoysala, a former banker. Being the son of a farmer, he got exposed to farming at a very young age. After studies, he worked in the banking sector for five years before quitting his job to take up farming.

Once back to farming, Hoysala started following traditional cultivation methods in his coffee plantation with black pepper as the parallel crop. In his 40-acre coffee estate, Arabica coffee is planted at a six-by-six feet spacing in about 30 acres. Since Arabica coffee demands a comparatively higher shade, indigenous trees are grown in the estate. Black pepper vines trail on these plants. Dadap trees with restricted height and silver oak trees are also grown as shade trees. However, lack of experience and guidance made Hoysala struggle in the initial years.

Meticulous planning
Subsequently, Hoysala came in contact with the Indian Institute of Spices
Research when he participated in a seminar organised by its regional centre in Madikeri, Kodagu. Here, he was able to gather information on black pepper, its production techniques, and know about the processing technologies developed by the institute.

Afterwards, he made it a point to visit the regional centre regularly and interact with the scientists to get more information about the crop. Now he feels that shade regulation, proper irrigation and integrated management practices are key to sustain both coffee and pepper crops. “Though I use both chemical and organic fertilisers to ensure proper growth of the plants, I strictly avoid chemical pesticides and insectides. One can avoid pests and diseases through efficient irrigation and proper nutrient management,” he says.

Even though Hoysala has sufficient water to irrigate his estate, he has stressed on water conservation by constructing water harvesting structures like farm ponds. In some parts of the estate, pits of size 10x1x1.5 feet have been made to check surface runoff, and enrich soil moisture. “These water management practices are not new to estates in Kodagu. With the changing weather patterns, following these traditional techniques becomes more important now than before,” he says.

“By adopting improved technologies and sustainable practices, we are able to increase the pepper yield of the estate from six tonnes to 12 tonnes within a span of five years,” he reveals. Though it is difficult to double the production in such a short span, proper planning and implementation has helped Hoysala achieve this feat.

The black pepper vines are irrigated with 70-100 litres of water in every round (in this estate, it takes three weeks to complete one round), depending on the canopy size, from March to June. Currently, the management of coffee and black pepper in one acre costs about Rs 85,000 per year for Hoysala. In turn, Hoysala earns a net profit of Rs one lakh per annum per acre from these crops.

Encouraged by the success of pepper crop in 30 acres, Hoysala has transformed  10 acres ginger cultivated area into a high-density black pepper plot with silver oak as the standard tree. Here, Robusta coffee is the parallel crop.

Hoysala’s innovative and sustainable methods have inspired many other
pepper growers in the region. Meticulous planning, flawless implementation of agricultural practices, and efficient labour management coupled with
relentless efforts to improve production have made agriculture sustainable and helped improve the yield. To know more about his work, one can contact
M G Hoysala at hoysala.mg@gmail.com or on 9449682430.
S J Ankegowda

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