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