Conservation for utilization of locally-grown Robusta Coffee
Coffee is one of many important industrial crops that earn income for farmers and coffee business entrepreneurs. Coffee has become increasing popular among Thais in all forms including instant coffee, roasted/blended coffee, canned instant coffee, coffee premium, and even iced black coffee and traditional coffee.
There are 2 breeds of coffee grown in Thailand – Arabica which grow well in the northern region and Robusta which is suitable to grow in the south. However, the popularity of rubber trees and oil palm trees in the south have discouraged the planting of Robusta coffee. However, Robusta can be found in some southern provinces like Chumporn, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Krabi and Ranong, for example. In Satun, Robusta coffee are conserved in Tambol Kuan Don (Muang district), Tambol Tung Noi (Kuan Kalong district) and Tambol Klong Kud (Muang district). Some are being planted in mixed-fruit orchards, some are used to prevent erosion or collapse of soil along the river. These trees are about 50-80 years or older as they are among the original plants imported from Malaysia, and are still productive. Farmers in Tambol Kuan Don process the coffee and brew it original-Malaysian style, which is known in Malayu as “Koopi” or “Kopi”. The coffee has become among the top products, known as “Kuan Don Traditional Coffee” and extremely popular that there is currently not enough supply for the demand.
Pic 1 Planting local Robusta breed to prevent erosion or collapse of soil along the river. (A) Local Robusta coffee (B) and a farmer group in local community that makes traditional coffee products (C) at Kuan Don, Satun
Planting and Caring for Robusta
The fluctuation in rubber market has turned many farmers toward planting Robusta. To them, Robusta offers an opportunity to increase income and alleviate risk of depending solely on rubber production. There has been an increase of land dedicated to grow the local Robusta breed enough to process raw materials into traditional coffee products to supply to the popular demand in the local community. However, the overall production is still insignificant due to limited technology especially to revitalize old Robusta trees to provide higher yield.
Results of a study exploring the possibility of planting Robusta by itself or mix with rubber trees while also identifying a way to revitalize the older trees growing in the mixed-fruit orchard which also grow longan, durian, banana, mangosteen, coconut, etc. Robusta grows well in the mixed-fruit orchard setting but the trees in shaded area do not yield as productively as those directly in the sun, either morning or afternoon. Moreover, pruning of dry and subordinate branches and fertilizing also increase production, for example, applying 15-15-15 fertilizer for 0.5 kg./tree/year, organic fertilizer 1-2 kg/tree/year and 13-13-21 fertilizer. In addition, Robusta in rubber plantation can also grow well but not comparable to those growing in an open space. The age of rubber trees and condition of the plantation as well as appropriate use of fertilizers for both rubber and Robusta trees are important factors to consider when mixing Robusta with rubber trees (pic 2)
Pic 2 Characteristics of local Robusta breed in mixed-fruit orchard that hasn’t been revitalized. They grow well under the sun (A) and under the shade of other trees. (B) Planting Robusta by itself (C) and planting Robusta with rubber trees (D) at Kuan Don, Satun
Evidently, the conservation effort of local Robusta breed is significant to the community. The successful effort would increase value for coffee products and develop unique local products and branding, or could be approved as local plant or Geographical Indication (GI) for Satun Province in the future. In any case, further studies need to be conducted to explore characteristics of the breed, reproduction, garden design, coffee processing and product development that would increase pricing and value. These studies will also support the utilization of biodiversity of local plants in a sustainable fashion for the benefit of the community.