Story of a Civil Engineer, Who Turns into the First Organic Coffee Grower of Odisha

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By Nilambar Rath

Bhubaneswar: He looked very happy and energetic. He was smiling during the entire conversation. His voice was full of confidence. He offered me warmth like an old-known friend, even though it was his first interaction with me.

This man holds a degree in civil engineering. But when several others of his generation were moving to bigger cities to harvest their fortune, he decided to stay back and harvest his passion from his own soil.

“Meet Mr. Lalatendu Pratap Deo, a young entrepreneur of Koraput. He has developed a nice coffee garden in a remote part of the district”, my friend Dr. Debabrata Mohanty, introduced me with him in a restaurant at Koraput town during my recent trip to the place. In fact I was surprised to meet Debabrata over there. But I was more surprised when I learnt that the man whom he introduced was an organic coffee grower. Yes, organic!

I was a bit excited and wanted to know if I could see the plantation during my stay over there! “Why not! If you are free, let’s move tomorrow,” a warm and prompt response came from this young and proud organic coffee planter of Koraput. And as per the plan he picked me up, the next afternoon. Mr. Gadadhar Puty, National Award winning filmmaker and Dr. Rudrani Mohanty, senior faculty at Central University of Odisha, also accompanied me in this coffee tour.

Coffee plant at the coffee garden
Coffee berries at the coffee garden
It was a 7-8 kilometers journey in the Koraput-Rayagada main road and we took left from Mastiput chhak. After travelling hardly 2 kilometers, we passed through a village called Bondaguda. And after a few kilometers, there was virtually no proper road. Mr. Deo was taking the vehicle very carefully through the fields and dangers (foot hills). It was a rough and tough journey indeed!

He passed out from University College of Engineering, Burla, before doing his Masters in Construction Management. “I was never interested in a Government Job and had never applied for one, ever. I wanted to build a production industry but ultimately landed here,” Mr. Lalatendu narrated while driving. A fifteen kilometers route took us almost an hour. and we reached the coffee plantation site.

The coffee garden is located at Chinder Routput village under the gram panchayat named Malkanagiri. A 35 acres of land fully grown with Kaveri variety of coffee. There are silver oak trees all around the field and coffee plants present in between. The gap between the oak trees and the coffee plants were scientifically planned. The gap between every oak tree was 12 feet and every coffee plant was 6 feet. Oak is primarily used as the shed plant to grow coffee. Additionally, the coffee farmers take benefit of planting pepper which grows on the shoulder of the oak trees. It thus becomes a multi-crop pattern and adds value to the commercial cropping.

From left: Mr. Gadadhar Puty, Mr. Nilambar Rath and Mr. Lalatendu Pratap Deo at the coffee garden
From left: Mr. Gadadhar Puty, (filmmaker), Mr. Nilambar Rath (the writer) and Mr. Lalatendu Pratap Deo at the coffee garden
“Maintaining an organic coffee garden is a great challenge. Because you do not use any fertilizer or chemicals to nurture and treat them. Everything has to be pure, fully organic. There is a chance of huge crop loss and you have to face it,” says Mr. Deo. While hundreds of farmers are interested in growing coffee in the general way, he takes all the pain to raise the farming fully organic. “It gives me immense satisfaction. For years I have been doing whatever best I can in this sector,” he adds.

Organic coffee is also rewarding. Presently Mr. Deo is producing over 2 tonnes of coffee every year. The whole crop is sold in India. Now he plans to sell the coffee directly to the overseas merchants and roasters for a better price. “I am also trying to develop a business model wherein I can be able sell my product directly to the coffee-lovers. It is difficult, but not impossible,” says Mr. Deo with confidence.

From blossoming to plucking, coffee production is a nine months process. The harvesting starts from December and ends almost in February. When the crop is ripe, the planters pluck the coffee-berry and remove the pulp. Further it goes through a process of washing and drying up. Now the coffee is ready for selling at the farmer’s level.

In the next level the coffee beans go through a thorough processing which is technical. It is called as curing. Here the parchment covers of the coffee beans are removed and the beans are separated (grading) according to the size. Now the green coffee is ready for trading in the market. The roasters buy green coffee and roast them before they sell them directly to the customers.

The coffee garden at Chinder Routput village under Malkanagiri gram panchayat in Koraput
The coffee garden at Chinder Routput village under Malkanagiri gram panchayat in Koraput
There are about 70-80 commercial non-organic coffee growers in Odisha and most of them belong to Koraput and Rayagada district. Kalahandi, Gajapati and Keonjhar also has some coffee planters. In some parts of the State, including Koraput, tribal people are growing coffee. “In fact, Karnataka is the highest coffee producing State in India where tribal families are the leader of this trade,” informs Mr. Deo. “In Kurg area they own large volume of plantations and are probably the richest people in the State,” he adds. In Odisha Coffee Board is encouraging farmers and entrepreneurs to join the farming and try their fortune with this commercial crop. But it seems the effort is not enough to raise the production in the State.

In the past one decade Mr. Lalatendu Deo had to find out many ways and do different experiments and innovations to keep the coffee plants grow. There is no electricity facility in the area. He was initially using diesel pumps and had drip irrigation system to water the plants. But later he shifted to kerosene run pumps to pick up the water from the nearby ponds using sprinklers to irrigate the whole 35 acres of plantation.

Lalatendu’s fields has many more things to be observed. He has got a dairy farm which produces, the natural manures needed for the vermin compost unit. He has also set up a bio-gas plant which is used for the purpose of cooking. Moreover to avoid transportation of bricks from a distance and to reduce the cost, engineer Mr. Deo produces concrete blocks, with the help of the labourers, and use them for his local construction.

Mr. Deo has also developed a nice mango garden in another 35 acres of land. He has grown Amprapalli variety in the garden. There was a deep satisfaction in his face when he introduced this precious plantation to us. One could imagine the amount of labour any farmer would have done in growing such a marvellous garden.

The coffee garden
The coffee garden
“We are first generation entrepreneurs. We have our advantages and also the limitations,” says Lalatendu Babu, while discussing on the success and difficulties of the trade. “I feel, we are contributing in 3 counts. Coffee can yield good revenue and thus helps in raising the economy of the State. Normally, the life of a coffee plant is around 90 years and its productive age would be 40 to 45 years. When one plat dies we replace it with a live one. This is how the business can run for generation after generation and for 3-4 centuries,” he explains.

“Secondly, coffee plantation also contributes towards the growth of the environment, especially in terms of controlling the local temperature. And thirdly, we are offering jobs to the local people almost round the year,” Mr. Deo said.

Mr. Lalatendu Pratap Deo, a 6 feet 2 inches young man with lot of energy and an enthusiastic agricultural-entrepreneur of new generation from Koraput. He enjoys his contribution to the society by producing economic crops like coffee and pepper. He claims to be the only organic coffee grower from Odisha and feels proud for it. He loves his soil. He loves to stay with his family with his mother, wife and two children. But, virtually he has created an extended family which includes hundreds and thousands of coffee, pepper and mango trees and the ambience all around.

He adds a salient point on the economic growth of Odisha and on the line of entrepreneurship by saying, “we should invite more and more people from outside to invest in Odisha. By this way our State shall grow and we all shall learn from them”.

Source: 360 NS

21 COMMENTS

  1. It is a nice article by Mr. Nilambar Rath. I surely am elated after going through it.

    All the way, I was thinking that Mr. Rath was asking questions that any inquisitive person, interested to know deep into something would mull over.

    I would like to just make these two small corrections in the article that of course are inconsequential. I passed out from University College of Engineering, Burla, before doing my Masters in Construction Management. And I was never being interested in a Government Job and had never applied for one, ever.

    • Hai Lala,

      This is Padmaja from hyderabad,long back I have read about you in the local magazine I’m so glad to congratulate you as an entepreneur,Basically I too belong to an agricultural family,though I’m a teacher all the time my mind is revolving around agriculture.So,can anyone from other state purchase lands in your district? If so how much a single hectare is going to be? May be I can suggest some of the like minded friends.
      In future I’ll try to see you along with my family.

      Regards,

      Padmaja.

  2. Great Job Lala!

    You remind me of Masanobu Fukuoka who wrote “Natural Farming” in 1980’s based on organic farming in Japan. He was a monk-like person. Farming is the best business. Bein a King-derivative, your passion is outstanding for organic farming. If not, Please read Natural Farming. I read it during my IIT Delhi days in 1988 while experienting with rural technology.

    Best wishes
    Raghu Dass, Houston, Texas
    A UCE Burla Batchmate

    • My Greetings to you, Raghu. I would just like to quote Fukuoka in these lines . . .

      “Of course, I have made mistakes . . . just as every grower does. However, I never really think of them as mistakes! Back in the beginning, for example, when 70% of a field was overgrown and unproductive and 20 to 30% was extremely productive, I saw my limited harvest as a success. I figured that if a small percentage of the field did produce, I could eventually make the rest of the acreage do just as well. My neighbors would never have been satisfied with a field like that . . . but I just viewed the “mistake” as a hint or a lesson. One of the most important discoveries I made in those early years was that to succeed at natural farming, you have to get rid of your expectations. Such “products” of the mind are often incorrect or unrealistic . . . and can lead you to think you’ve made a mistake if they’re not met.”

      We can apply his words in any job we are undertaking. Not Just Agriculture !!!

      Wishing to meeting you soon.

  3. Great to know about this young entrepreneur, Odisha needs this kind of young energetic leaders to take the state forward. I hope This will continue to grow and inspire other people to do something for the state and the country.

    • Thanks a lot for your encouraging words Mr. Biswal.

      I believe that one has to have a good amount of self-believe and to stick to whatever one’s passion is. Every thing will fall in line. But then, if we can follow whatever our passion is, and can derive pleasure out of it, what else is required?

      Still a long way to go.

      My good wishes.

  4. A nice report ,Such reports must be high lighted more for motivation of other farmers and for all spectrum of cultivation.

  5. Being myself an AGRRIL.GRAD.Istill fear to enter farming.Teaching and practising by self quite different.Quite amazing to learn that it is borne out of passion.I voluntarily agree to render any technical help if necessary.

  6. Nice rendering… Quite nicely captures the journey… but has been through a lot of hardships…
    Cheers to the journey and the journey-man..
    “Miles to go before you sleep..”

    @Mr Rath: Very well written piece.

  7. Thats the kind of person we should be cheering about!! Well done. I guess the government needs to learn from this and replicate it elsewhere and involve local population.It will solve lots of issues.

  8. Hi,

    Congratulations on your Enterprises.
    I would like to know more about your farm. If possible visit it and discuss with you. I am enclosing my email id. kindly let me know if its feasible. sanakm@gmail.com

    Sincerely,
    S Mohapatra

  9. Hellow Mr.L.P.Dev,

    How are you? Have you remembered me? It is great to see your article in the site.

    Keep it up

    Thanks & Regards

    shridhar

    AndhraPradesh

  10. Hi Sir,

    What is rate per acre now. Am from Koraput and working for a bank in Karnataka. I deal with Coffee Planters & Curers in Chickmanglur and Kushalnagar area on Coffee stocks.

    Would like to more from you about Orissa coffee business.

    Thanks

  11. Hi Mr. Lalatendu,

    I feel so happy of proud of you while reading this article. I belong to Jeypore and now working in a Tata Company near Jharsuguda. I always wanted to have a small plantation in the beautiful place of Koraput District. Can you suggest what should be the price of per acre of land in Koraput District where coffee can be grown.

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