Plantation History


Coffee, it was believed that coffee was introduced in India in 17th Century by a Haji named Baba Budan from present ChikManglore district of Karnataka State. But massive plantation of coffee in industrial scale was done by British Companies and European planers.

The coffee have been introduced into Wayanad from Anjarakkandi by Major Brown in 1828. Even though the coffee had been begun in early 18th century, the cultivation becomes an enterprise only after 1839, and about the same time, first gardens were formed on the Nilgiris. There was a rapid growth of Coffee Garden in Wayanad and gradual growth in Nilgiris, but in 1847 it had been fully established even in the latter tract, by 1863-64 there were probably forty estates in various parts of the district. The opening of Coffee estates in the Ouchtrlony Valley made significant improvement in extending the coffee estates in south-east Wayanad.

About 1850’s the coffee estates extended to Nilgiri Wayanad. Devala-Pandalur-Cherambadi areas turned to large planting centers, during this time many European planters settled in Nilgiris and Wayanad to establish Plantations.

The coffee plantations were blessing for the locals of South East Wayanad as many of the people migrated to the Coffee estates to earn job and relief from hunger. In 1877 Wayanad was tragically affected by famine and hunger. Many of the people don't have food for days. People leave their home to the estates to get some job and relief. But as they leave their home half-starved and by the time reaching the estate, they become totally unfit for work and some of them dead due to starvation.

A tragic news reported from South East Wayanad in 1877, one planter caught in heavy rain sought shelter in a nearby native hut. As he approached the hut he became aware of a horrible smell coming out of the hut. He tried to open the door of the hut by his stick and he saw a dead body. He went off and informed the police and later they found all the six members of the family was dead and all in a state of decomposition. And it was believed all of them dead due to starvation.

Even the coffee production is not up to the expectations and having a lot of constraints for production in the Nilgiri Agro-climatic zone, planters were maintained their plantations for decades and this continued after independence. The interest of pioneer planters like Gopalakrishnan Nair of Devagiri estates and other small growers helped this industry to pass to the next generations. The positive involvement of the Indian Coffee Board helps the survival of this industry. As the coffee plantations doesn't succeed as expected, the planters tried many alternative corps like cocoa, rubber, orange etc. when the major crops like coffee don't work as expected. Ambitious British government and traders introduced may other corps to utilize the rich soil. In 1884-1889 the Glendrock Company did an experimental cultivation of Remie/Reha fiber plant around 400 acres in the forest slopes of Glendrock valley. The soil and climate were very suitable for the cultivation of Remie crops as the stems obtained desired growth in the rainfall months without irrigation, even though the company has to pay more for drying and spinning the fiber. The plantation was given up due to poor profitability and high production cost.

Cinchona / Peruvian Bark Trees

In 1830's the death causalities due to the deadly fever increased tremendously. Remarkable control of malaria by Quinine which was extracted from the Cinchona tree bark and Quinine was used extensively to cure this deadly fever. This engaged the attention of the Government and In 1859, Load Stanley the "Secretary of State for India” instructed Sir.Clements Robert Markham of India Office with the duty of superintending all the necessary arrangement for collection of Chinchona seed and plants from South America and to introduce in selected suitable sites in India.

After enduring great hardship, with the support of Mr.Cross in the forests of Loxa and Mr.Pritchett in the forest of Northern Peru, The explorers succeeded in getting the seeds and plans of Chinchona from North America to Southern India. But the conveyance of the collected chinchona plants and seeds in India would have been of little use if had not been delivered into competent hands at the destination. The received plants and seeds were successfully introduced in the selected slopes in Nilgiris, First in Naduvattam area then extended to Cherangode - Cherambadi area. only because of the unwearied zeal and skilful Management of Mr.Mc Ivor , the superintendent of the Government Garden in Ooty. Within few years the Cinchona gardens were extended up to 700 acres. The profitability of the new plantation attracted many private individuals and coffee planters started growing Cinchona tree.

But the price of Quinine gone down tremendously due to over production of cinchona in other parts of the world hence the cinchona boom faded out within a short span and the Gold boom in Nilgiri-Wayanad resulted close to the extinction of these plantations.

Tea Industry

“Chai” is an inevitable part of Indian life, and the origin of chai is date back more than 5000 years. The Chai was used as a traditional medicinal practice in which herbs and spices are used for healing. In fact, the ancient Ayurvedic chai contains no any tea leaves but made by brewing herbs and spices such as ginger, black pepper, cardamom, star anise etc.

The modern tea tradition started in India as an effort by the British traders to popularize tea beverage in British India. They organized promotional campaigns, tea stalls were set up in cities, towns and railway stations, factories were encouraged to give tea breaks to their workers etc. The campaign was so successful as the tea become the most popular beverage of India which transcends all boundaries, in another word the East India Company and their allied traders made a big market for the Tea produced in their Indian Plantations.

The Indian tea industry is another result of the greedy East India Company's s search for profitability. Eventually, they understood that Tea has a fortune which can stimulate trade and raise profit. In early 1833, Tea plant was introduced in Nilgiris and in 1835 plants raised from seeds brought from China were planted in the experimental garden at Keti. In 1854, Mr. Mann from Coonoor procured finest plant/seeds from China and started the first tea estate in Nilgiris named “Coonoor Tea Estate”

Later the tea estates were extended to all over Nilgiris including the South East Wayanad and Wayanad itself. From 1872, the major portion of South East Wayanad slopes were converted to tea plantation as the Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS) of England extended their interest to establish tea gardens in India and invested for the plantations in Nilgiri Wayanad and other hill stations of south India.For early plantation efforts, Chinese prisoners of war were brought to India from China in 1859 and jailed in the Nilgiris in two camps- One at Naduvattam and one in the Thiashola reserve forest. But the plantation in Nilgiri Wayanad is manned with the migrants especially the Tamils from plains, Muslims of Malabar and coolies from Karnataka.

The area developed into massive plantation centers, The new industry attracted many European fortune seekers and Remarkable contributions are done by many European planters to this industry. D.H.McLeod and Henry Atzenwiler are few among them. McLeod was born in an English planters family at Richmond estate in Pandalur, they where believed to be one of the first English Planters family in the area. Henry Atzenwiler was a Swiss-born planter with full of ambitions and dedication, in early days Mclead and and Henry joined together to develop plantations around Pandalur.

The gold boom in the area had a negative impact on agro-industry. Later McLeod and his family left Pandalur and they established an estate in Poomala near Sulthanbathery in the State of Kerala., the place was named after his birthplace ( Richmond in Pandalur is called as Poomala by the local people). Meanwhile, Henry settled in Cottanaad Estate and became one of the pioneer planter in Waynad area, he died on 6th May 1912 and buried at Cherangode village near Pandalur.

Cooperative Wholesale societies (CWS) UK Ltd developed massive tea gardens in the area.Richmond, Attikunna and Carolyn estate divisions of CWS covered a large area as tea garden. A big factory setup installed in Mango-range called Carolyn Tea factory locally known as MangorngeRaatta. From 19th century, many migrants from plains of Madras presidency, Malabar and Mysore state earned their decent living from these estates. It’s an irony that the company started in UK with the Ethics of Solidarity and Human welfare, but the English officers administered the estates in a brutal way. Many people became victims of the modern slavery and human trafficking established in the estates. Some clever Indians bring the group of people from the villages to work in the estates, in return estate administration reward them the position of field supervisors ( known as Kanganior mesthri), most of these kanganis were authorities, brutal and aggressive than the English officers.

Even though they treat the estate labors as slaves, they address the needs and welfare of them. The company established officer’s bungalows and many labor quarters (locally called Pady) and other facilities including child care centers, hospitals, and retail outlets.In 1977, Murugappa group incorporated to take over the Indian counterpart of CWS UK Ltd estates ie CWS (India) Ltd. From 1987 the CWS started divestment their shares, by the year 1992 they disinvested their entire share in favors of Murugappa group. In 1993 the company name was changed from CWS(India) Ltd to Parry Agro Industries Limited.

Since the 1930s, there has been the steady increase in the area under tea cultivation in the small tea grower sector. Initially, these small growers had to supply their plucking’s only to private tea factories. These small tea growers faced several problems such as low rates for their leaves, heavy rejection of leaves etc. To resolve these issues government decided to establish Tea Factories under Cooperative Sector. With the establishment of the first Industrial Cooperative Tea Factory (INDCO) at Kundah in 1962. The successful implementation of the first cooperative tea factory encourages the government to invest on many tea factories. In 1974 the Pandalur INDCO factory was established.

Tan Tea: The a vast area of forest land was cleared and converted to tea gardens as the State government of TamilNadu introduced the Government Tea Project in 1968 with a socio-economic objective to rehabilitate the repatriates from Sri Lanka and the project was named “Tamil Nadu Tea Plantation Corporation Limited (TANTEA) ” .It’s quite an irony that a massive forest cleansing was done specially in Cherangode,Cherambadi and Kolappally area by the Forest Department itself to establish tea gardens, within a record time the corporation raised tea plantations in thousands of hectares of land which provide decent livelihood to about 10000 Sri Lankan repatriates. After the arrival of the Sri Lankan repatriates an aggressive growth in the private tea estates is witnessed as the locals were exploiting their professionalism in the field and enjoying inexpensive labor, many private estate owners used this opportunity to expand their plantations even by encroaching the adjoining government lands.

References

  • A Manual of The Nilgiri District in Madras Presidency; H.B.Grigg;1880;Madras Govt Press
  • Coffee its physiology, history and cultivation; Edmund CP Hull;1865
  • The famine Campaign in Southern India – William Dig ; Longmans Green & Co;1878
  • The West Port Times; October 30 1877.
  • Ramie China grass – The new textile fiber; HA Carter;1910
  • The Nilgiris ;W.Francis ;1908.
  • Travels in Peru and India; Clements Robert Markham; London 1862
  • Illustrated London News -Dec6, 1862