Coorg Orange; the pride of Kodagu

Babu Raghavan, Coorg
Babu Raghavan, Coorg
Coorg Oranges on the branches of tree
Coorg Oranges on the branches of tree

The origin of Coorg oranges is not clearly known, although it is believed to be introduced from Central India about 300 years ago. Coorg orange is classed under mandarin group (Citrus reticulata) and is also popularly known as Santras in India.

They are also referred to as loose jacket oranges. Coorg orange, Nagpur orange, Khasi orange, Rangtra, Kamala, Sikkim orange, Yemmedoddi orange are all strains of mandarin and each of them are known for their juiciness, taste, and quality.  Coorg orange is highly nutritious, sweet, and delicious, possessing good medicinal value too.  Coorg orange has got its own special taste and flavor with well-blended sugar and acid contents.

Characters of Coorg Mandrins:










10-12 %







Coorg orange and other mandarin oranges that are grown in various coffee zones are prized in the market because of their attractive golden tinge, easiness to peel, high palatability, less seediness, a perfect blend of acid, and sweetness.

Though Coorg orange was introduced to the district about 300 years early the cultivation was promoted by the British. The farmers who were growing Coorg Oranges were experiencing many problems in production and marketing and were represented to the British Government. Dr.Burns, Agriculture Commissioner visited Coorg in the year 1941 and met the farmers.

Mr.Ivor Bull, Managing Director of Consolidated Coffee Estates Limited presented the actual position and the plight of orange growers to Dr. Burns, who in turn asked the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to study in detail the setting up of a research station to initiate scientific work on orange cultivation.

Subsequently, towards research, a small plot of land in Chenankote estate of the C.C. E. Ltd. was taken on lease and the orange research station was started. As the area under orange cultivation increased, the research station was shifted to two centers, namely Gonicoppal and Chethalli in Coorg District. 

The Coorg Orange Grower’s Co-operative Society was started in the year 1942 as one of the I.C.A.R. Schemes.  Two other schemes were also started, The Orange Research Scheme, and the other, orange Marketing Scheme, and both these were started at Pollibetta. 

The Orange Marketing Scheme is now popularly called ‘Coorg Orange Growers’ Co-operative Society’. But for the existence of this Society, the Coorg orange Industry would have been collapsed long back and people would not have taken up orange cultivation very seriously.

The two stations, the Citrus Die-back disease station at Gonicoppal and the Regional Fruit Research Station at Chettalli have contributed immensely to the development of the Orange Industry in Coorg and also in the neighboring districts of the  State. As a result, the area from 10,000 acres went up to 50,000 acres in the state in the initial years of the setting up of these Schemes.  (Srivastava, et.al.1967)

Coorg Orange

Not so long ago, orange cultivation occupied a pride of place as an intercrop inside coffee plantations. This crop played an important role in insulating the coffee farmers from the volatile coffee prices and at times rescued the farmers in times of coffee crop failure.  A few coffee farmers have also cultivated citrus as a mono crop under irrigated conditions. Coorg orange had attained a pride of place among the fruits and this was proved in the All India Citrus show conducted at New Delhi (1957) and at Bangalore (1964) by winning meritorious prizes and championship. 

The orange crop had been wiped out from the Coorg district of Karnataka by the 1980's mainly due to an outbreak of greening disease, also known as citrus decline. The citrus experiment station located at Gonicoppal and the Chetthali Research Station ( Central Horticultural Experiment Station ) have researched for over 4 decades on citrus dieback and their investigations have revealed that the malady is due to the interaction of many factors, namely, malnutrition of orange trees, attack of various pests and diseases, particularly stem borer and phytophthora leaf fall disease, powdery mildew, and root rot.

Other important factors contributing to the spread of the disease are due to improper planting material and lack of sufficient scientific know-how on citriculture among coffee farmers.

For the past three decades, orange cultivation inside coffee plantations has taken a back seat due to diseases. To make a clear analysis of the problem is next to impossible. It could be attributed to multiple reasons such as environmental, entomological, pathological, nutritional, physiological, and viral or Nematoda in nature.

We need to progress beyond the past and explore the use of cultivars that grow vigorously, without showing signs of citrus decline. One way of tackling this problem is by way of increasing the degree of diversity within the environs of the coffee mountain.

This will enable the farm to build up sufficient bio reserves in the form of predators, parasites, and beneficial insects, together with a large organic nutrient pool, thereby limiting the buildup of the pathogen population.

Since the citrus roots are shallow-rooted, they are highly susceptible to damage during scuffle digging, which is a common practice inside coffee farms. Coffee farmers need to minimize this damage by carefully tilling the soil.

Orange cultivation is also very sensitive to extreme climate changes and undesirable levels of chemicals in the soil. Excessive application of chemicals on the coffee farm can significantly alter the microflora associated with citrus. Hence, urgent attention needs to be paid to protect the coffee ecosystem from the strain of chemicals and pesticides (Anand and Geetha 2007). 

The Department of horticulture of the Government of Karnataka filed an application for a “Coorg Orange” GI which was registered in 2004. The two main objectives were to protect and revive the traditional crop variety and to provide high-quality planting material bringing economic development to the region. A third objective appeared later, once the GI has been registered: it could be used to protect the ecosystem where the orange is grown (Claude et.al 2007). Efforts are also being undertaken through the National Horticultural Mission Program to revive the cultivation of Coorg Orange.

 (This is the fourth part of an article series on the diversity of Kodagu. To be continued)

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