Coffee Plantations Became Hi-Tech, Thanks To Smart Agro Technology

Coffee was introduced to India in the 17th century by Baba Budan, a Sufi saint who is said to have returned from his pilgrimage with seven raw beans from the port of Mocha, Yemen. A century later, the British began establishing coffee plantations, primarily in Southern India, to scale commercial cultivation. Today, India is the 6th largest producer of coffee in the world, and most of the coffee is grown in plantations spread across the Western Ghats in South India, mainly in Wayanad, Coorg and Chikmagalur. These areas are best suited for growing high quality coffee as they are located at altitudes ranging from 3300 feet to 4900 feet, and have been blessed with well-defined seasons, fertile soil, lush vegetation, trees and forests with shade, sunshine, and abundant rainfall.

Major coffee varieties

There are over 100 species of coffee worldwide of which Coffea Arabica commonly known as Arabica, characterized by flat and elongated beans, and Coffea Canephora commonly known as Robusta, with rounded shaped beans, are the two main species that are grown economically. While each species of coffee has several unique characteristics and vulnerabilities, their environment, climate, sunlight, soil, rainfall, moisture and nutrient requirements are largely similar and crucial for their growth and sustenance. However, their susceptibility to adverse weather conditions and diseases varies significantly, requiring the use of special care and techniques to protect them and get the best out of the crop. In India, nearly 70% of the coffee plantation area is used to grow Robusta and the remaining is reserved for Arabica. This is the opposite in most other coffee growing countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.


Coffee requires adequate water supply every season and throughout its life cycle. The dormant period of the flower buds of the Robusta and Arabica coffee is broken after a dry stress period and followed by sufficient rain or irrigation to promote uniform flowering and good fruit set. The methods of irrigation for coffee are similar to other tree crops. Aerial irrigation with sprinklers spraying water to target areas on time controlled cycles works well for Robusta, while bottom irrigation with mini sprinklers or drippers, that do not moisten the canopy, reducing the incidence of diseases like rust, works well for Arabica.


In addition to water levels, the presence of trees and shade are also very important factors in growing coffee as they have a significant impact on the taste and flavour of the cup. Coffee is grown under shaded or full sun conditions. Globally, about 25 percent of the world's coffee is managed under diverse shade, about 35 percent under partial shade, and about 40 percent under full sun. The area used to grow coffee under full sun conditions has increased dramatically over the last half-century to get higher yields with some adverse trade-offs to the quality of the cup. Whenever you nourish your special cup of coffee, it is very likely that it has been brewed from shade-grown beans. Shaded coffee production constitutes a system of agroforestry production with many environmental benefits, especially those related to soil and water, two priority areas in coffee producing regions. These are welcome thoughts to savour with every sip of pure filter coffee!

Special care

With the aid of a knowledgeable planter the coffee plant will not only continue to produce adequate quantity of coffee every year but also increase its crop yield to meet the growing demand. This is achieved by helping the plant adapt to adverse changes in climate, levels of shade, nutrients, and water, and increasing resistance to diseases to get the best flowering, fruits and beans. These planters strive to get the maximum from their coffee plantations by overcoming the challenges of depleting soils, increasing expense on maintenance and required inputs like fertilizers, and high costs of manual labour.

Soil conditions

The typical Robusta coffee plant lives for well over 75 years, and like a human being, it experiences changes in its environment and surroundings. In recent years, global climate change has resulted in unpredictable rainfall patterns, which poses a significant challenge to growing good quality Robusta and Arabica coffee in abundance and in an economically viable manner. The vagaries of nature and socio-economic activities in the areas have also led to erosion and depletion of soil. These circumstances necessitate appropriate technological interventions to facilitate the growth of coffee.



Over the last few decades agricultural production in general has progressed from the manual and machinery ages to the smart information age leading to better use of scarce resources and conservation of environment. Technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Remote Sensing are extensively utilized in precision agriculture and irrigation. Many aspects of agriculture production benefit from the optimum and efficient use of resources like manpower, energy, nutrients, and water.

How to work

Coffee plantations would need to take the following steps to take full advantage of emerging technology:

1. Identify:

Identify the issues and their interdependencies from the perspectives of the main stake holders: the land, the coffee plant, the planter, and the consumer.

2. Measure:

Follow good sustainable and healthy plantation practices using a dynamic and process oriented approach with observation, collection, and analysis of data. For example, soil condition, moisture levels from the field, and information like weather and market trends from all connected sources. This would enable the use of appropriate technology interventions.

3. Improve:

Implement practical and viable technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) with sensors, devices using smart solutions, deploying Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to manage them well and get the best results for all stake holders.

Precision is important

'Smart Agro' Systems help enable these steps by providing solutions for agriculture, plantation and farm automation, precision irrigation, tree tracking and resource management. Automation, monitoring and remote management using sensors, IOT devices, cloud computing and actuators provides the required data on ambient and soil parameters. The system gives all the necessary information on the health needs of plants and crops for their care and timely interventions. It takes care of adaptive optimum automatic delivery of water and nutrients to plants and crops with conservation of natural resources.

Sensors can do more

The system takes in real time data of moisture from the sensors as input, combines it with related parameters such as humidity and temperature. It also monitors and outputs the optimum amount of water for the plants by translating the information received to controlled actuation of their distributed discharge. The system is designed to address the following:

  • Automation and Remote Management using a real time feedback control system to measure and monitor water and related parameters that are required for good agricultural practice.

  • Integrated IoT system with parameter sensing and facility for irrigation automation to provide a solution for monitoring and controlling the moisture level in the soil at nearby, distant, and remote locations.

  • Controlling the irrigation system usage in an efficient, optimum, and beneficial way to provide real-time corrective measures by controlling the dissemination of appropriate amounts of water and other additives as prescribed, in a timely manner.

  • Scalable designs to cover small, medium and large areas in a modular manner with cost and value optimization through stand alone and integrated configurable modular models.

The system provides an optimum delivery schedule of water requirements to the crops to ensure they have the required quantity for healthy growth while protecting against ecological damage through excesses. This also minimizes the cost, ensures reduction of wastage of water in irrigation and its optimum use leading to reduced costs and empowers the users with the following.

  • An online sensing system with sensors to determine the soil moisture content or potential to infer the amount of water available for plant use.

  • Satisfy the crop water need in a timely and spatially uniform manner by enabling and incorporating appropriate technologies into agriculture.

  • Controlled application of water through a precision irrigation model to meet the specific requirements of a set of crops or field units and minimise adverse environment impact.

- Overestimation of soil moisture status may lead to a delay in irrigation scheduling decisions and consequently affect crop yield and quality.

- Underestimation of soil moisture status on the other hand may lead to application of irrigation too often or when not required by the crops. This will result in water/energy wastage and adverse environmental effects.

  • Provide adequate water to the soil, to conserve the natural water resources of the area, improve efficiencies, optimize manpower, increase effectiveness, reduce costs and wastage, and increase yields and profits.

  • Serve as a management information and decision support system providing an effective solution for sensing, monitoring, control and supply to achieve good sustainable agricultural productivity and yields.

Padivayal plantations

Smart Agro technologies are currently being implemented at Padivayal in Wayanad. Pativayal Plantations, established in 1929, was a pioneer in growing plantation crops mainly coffee, pepper and spices in Wayanad. The three estates - Padivayal-V, Kusumam-J and Ketharam, which were part of the erstwhile group, continue to produce quality coffee till date under the able leadership of 84 year old Smt. A.K. Nalini, wife of Late Dr. K. Janardanan son of the founder of Pativayal Plantations Late Sri. Kurup, a visionary entrepreneur planter, and daughter of Late Sri. M. Achuthan Nair of Puduthotam estate, an award-winning agriculturist and planter who was an active member of the Coffee Board. She is assisted by her son the co-author of this article Sri. Vinod Kumar who manages the estates with a team of dedicated staff and workers of many years.

Pure Coffee

Brewing coffee is an art where the usage of a simple technology like the coffee filter makes a world of a difference in the quality of the cup. Though the environment, growing conditions and rainfall patterns that influence the crop are beyond our control, the adoption and use of Smart Agro technology and interventions like precision irrigation have an enabling role at every stage reducing dependencies and improving predictability. Further, Smart Agro technology solutions provide tools ranging from tracking valuable trees in the plantation to monitoring operations to assessing the quality and purity of coffee in the cup.

Every connoisseur of pure coffee should be aware of the dilution in the form of blends that has crept into the cups they savour. The addition of chicory and other additives have produced variants like the Mochas and Cappuccinos of the world, and new flavours that have been conjured up by marketers and the coffee Cafés that rule the present commercial coffee roost.

Chicory is derived from the root of a wild herb, Cicoria Entybus, which is cut into slices, kiln-dried, roasted and ground in a manner similar to coffee. It is a flowering plant that was first used by the French as a coffee substitute for political and economic reasons to stretch the reach of their produce to meet growing demand. Today, coffee companies add chicory as a coffee substitute in their blends to keep their products affordable and protect margins.

The prevention of food adulteration rules protects the consumer by ensuring that instant coffee ispure and the blends have their added ingredients like chicory and their percentage mix in relation to coffee specified on the pack. While one's taste buds are the best judge, knowledge clubbed with technology has empowered us with solutions to assess the content, purity, benefits and identify any harmful ingredients in the products to enjoy our cup of coffee.

About the authors:

Vinod Kumar Kodakkat, CEO, Padivayal Enterprise, has a Masters Degrees in Science and Technology from BITS Pilani and IIT Madras and brings over three decades of business and technology experience with a unique blend of entrepreneurial, techno-management and marketing skills. Vinod Kumar has leadership experience in Corporates, SMEs and Startups with interests in emerging technologies and applications in the areas of Information Technology, Embedded Systems, Automation, Healthcare, Plantations and Permaculture.

Dr. Srinath Ramamoorthy, Consultant Advisor, Padivayal Enterprise, has a Ph.D in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and earned his B.Tech and M.Tech Degrees in Electronics from IIT Madras. Dr. Srinath has over three decades of entrepreneurship and leadership experience in the Semiconductor/Embedded System domains in DACS, Motorola and ZiLOG. He is also a Visiting Professor at the Department of Computer Science in PES University, Bangalore.

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