M.S. Ramdas and estate manager Thomas at the Sri Vinayaka Estate Coffee Plantation.
My love and passion for coffee and anything horticultural/plant-related is rooted deep within me, which has been tended and cultivated over time. Agriculture has had a great impact on both sides of my family; my paternal family (Kottaram family) in India and my maternal family (Chellam family) in Malaysia. This led to me pursuing a degree in Horticulture from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore, India in the 1980’s followed by a Masters degree in Horticulture from Colorado State University and a doctoral degree in Conservation Biology much later from University of Colorado, Boulder.
My paternal great grandfather, Mankompu Krishna Iyer, reclaimed nearly 3,000 acres of land for paddy cultivation in the 1800s. The next generation consisted of six brothers, all of whom expanded the agricultural legacy of the family, expanding into rubber and coffee throughout the state of Kerala. In the 1940s, 2,041 acres of forest land was purchased in Wayanad. The family of granduncle M.K. Ananthasiva Iyer took on the task of developing the virgin forests into plantations, originally cultivated with coffee, inter-planted with oranges, pepper and rubber. His sons, A. Gopalakrishnan and A. Ratnam were mainly responsible for developing the coffee plantations after enduring many hardships and obstacles. In 1951, the family agricultural lands were partitioned among the six brothers, though the coffee plantations in Wayanad were continued to be developed and managed by Ratnam for the entire family. Around 1980, the families of each of the six brothers took on the management of their individual family plantations.
My father (M. S. Ramdas) and his two brothers’ (M. S. Krishnamurthy and M. S. Swaminathan) portion of land amounted to about 100 acres. My father took over management of his family line’s plantation, which was named Sri Vinayaka Estate. The plantation was eventually sold in 1999.
While pursuing my doctoral degree, I had determined that I wanted to work in Madagascar due to the unique flora of that country with a high percentage of endemicity and high threat of extinction/endangerment. A year into working on a research proposal to assess the genetic diversity of an endangered tree species, Prunus africana, I found out that someone else was working on a similar project. Disappointed, I abandoned this project and started looking for another research project. Looking through a book, a photograph of my late father taken at our coffee plantation in Wayanad fell out of the book. I took this as a sign from my father, guiding me to pursue my research in coffee. I completed my doctoral degree in 2011, my research focused on the conservation genetics of wild coffee in Madagascar. Since then I have purchased the coffee plantations in Jamaica and have been involved in other coffee research projects. As I pursue in the footsteps of my ancestors, I feel the spirit of my late father guiding me along the way.
I acknowledge my uncle, A. Ratnam for providing me the detailed history of the Kottaram family agricultural legacy.