Magnum Opus on Eco-friendly Coffee
“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” - Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth U S President (1809- 1865).
When Lincoln politely demanded good coffee or tea, he was not concerned with the conditions under which these beverages were produced in the first place; rather, his concern was with their correct brewing. Today’s concerns go to the roots at the growing level. With increasing use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides, there is a movement now to go back to natural fertilizers and wholesome cultivation practices. That explains the title of the book under review: Ecofriendly Coffee by Anand T. Pereira and Geeta N. Pereira. They have impressive degrees and hands-on work qualifications to write this magnum opus on their selected subject. Dr. Anand Titus Pereira is Ph. D. In microbiology while Geeta Nanaiah Pereira Is M. S.(US) in horticulture. The full title of the book is Shade Grown Eco Friendly Coffee - Volume 1 (2009)
The husband and wife co-authors own a coffee farm, Joe’s Sustainable Farm, in Sakleshpur Taluk of Hassan District of Karnataka – on the foothill of Western Ghats of India. Western Ghats is recognized as one of the 18 hotspots of the world known for its biodiversity. The co-authors have worked diligently on sustainable technologies for the past 20 years and have come out with various practical recommendations which are of great benefit for coffee farmers. Over the years, the farm has been a model for both Indian and foreign farmers. They are regular contributors to ineedcoffee.com and periodically present lectures on the intrinsic value of shade-grown coffee.
The authors have successfully adopted rain water harvesting techniques and have developed state of the art rain gun sprinkler system with the help of Israeli and Indian technology. The farm has multiple crops like coffee, arecanut, pepper, banana, ginger, orange and rice. Many foreigners visit the farm and seek technical help in setting up coffee estates.
The content of this book has undergone agnipariksha of being subjected to peer group scrutiny through publication, in the form of learned research papers, in the niche website ineedcoffee.com and other learned platforms. The forty chapters of the volume being reviewed are clubbed under broad subjects like Overview, Water, Ecology, Microbiology, Nutrient Dynamics, Physiology and Miscellaneous – the last covering orange as intercrop and global warming.
As the authors note, the treatise presented in this volume has three directions of special emphasis. First, to develop the coffee farmer’s reliance on the working knowledge of horticulture, microbiology and allied sciences in understanding the basis of growing economically sound and ecologically safe coffee. Second: to help connoisseurs of coffee worldwide to appreciate the significance of shade-grown coffee and its positive impact on ecology. Third: to organise the subject to make it more nearly representative of modern science in the laboratory and in the field for students from various disciplines of science. The authors claim that in preparing the volume they were struck by two special characteristics in the “manner of change in our science of growing and consuming coffee”. They note that more and more farmers are adapting the low external input and sustainable form of agriculture compared to the highly intensive chemical mode. The second is the consumer’s choice for shade-grown, eco-friendly coffee which brings forth the taste of nature in the cupping quality.
In his foreword, Prof. Dr. P. Tauro, retired Dean, Post-graduate School, Haryana Agricultural University, says that the authors “have demonstrated innovative and highly efficient approaches in developing a sustainable coffee ecosystem, providing coffee farmers with tools to compete in the world marketplace. This integrated approach elevates quality at all levels of the value chain so that everyone benefits.” Commending the volume, Dr. (Sr.) Marie Prem D’Souza A. C., Principal, St. Agnes College, Mangalore, observes: “It is creditable indeed that these young scientists have devoted much time, knowledge and expertise to the unraveling of mysteries hidden in nature.”
Coffee is the starting point to seamlessly to lead the reader beyond the realm of beans to a number of commercially viable and profitable intercrops which can help the planter to withstand the vagaries of fluctuating coffee yield and swings in world coffee prices. There is also a bonus, backed by colour photos, in the form of coverage of the rich fauna and flora of the Western Ghats.
“A picture is a poem without words.” – Cornificus.
“A picture is worth ten thousand words.” – Chinese proverb.
If we go by the above, we have poems running through 550 pages, from cover to cover. With about 1,000 sharp, well-composed colour photos, beautifully reproduced on high-end, heavy art paper, figure out what it adds up to by the pages of this volume. These photos blend with the text and some of them have cryptic identifications. Though the authors may assume that the photos are self-explanatory and make sense in their textual context, it would have added value to the volume if each photo had individual caption giving popular and scientific names.
There is something for everybody in this volume. The history of coffee and its introduction and progress in India should be of interest for persons even beyond the planting community. So are four chapters under “Water” – soil water conservation, rain water harvesting, the fine art of irrigation and rain guns – the future of sprinkler irrigation. The last one is adequately illustrated with photos and drawings so that any do-it-yourself enthusiast can go ahead without further ado. Though the authors have skipped the conventional index, which seems irrelevant in this case, they have thoughtfully included ten pages of “Coffee Terminology” which should be helpful to non-coffee-culture novices.
Co-authoring or multi-authoring is an intriguing process involving decisions on who would supply full stops and commas. There is also politics wherein the research guides or heads of departments (queen bees) top the list of authors leaving the hands-on researchers and writers (worker bees) to take the hindmost. In the present case, the division of work (or is it labour of love?) between the co-authors had been on the basis of their specializations. Geeta has worked on heat stress mechanisms and the physiology that governs the biochemical constituents of the coffee bush. Anand has specialized on the microbial ecology of the coffee forests.
To sum up the review, this volume is a storehouse of authoritative knowledge on the subject covered as also a fountain as the chapters have a string of references which will take the interested reader on a never-ending scholastic trail. Thee days, expensively produced books, specially on art, end up as coffee table books. This book eminently qualifies for a place in the drawing room as its title itself claims the space.
Now to some home truths. You need strong limbs to handle this 3+ kg weighty volume. I kept it flat on the table and got a pain in the neck as I had to bend over it to suit my executive bifocals. Then I remembered a book on Maharajas that I reviewed decades ago. There was a corpulent Maharaja who was expected to give a male progeny to continue the dynasty, but had mating problems as his dainty maharani could not bear his weighty body. Then the courtiers studied the mating habit of elephants and built a ramp in the royal bedroom with required exit holes. And it worked! So, I brought my wife’s (crosswords) Random House Webster Unabridged Dictionary (2330 pages; but weighing only 4 kg because of its flimsy paper) and made a ramp to rest the Ecofriendly Coffee volume in a readable slanted position. So, I have given a hint on how to handle this book!
Finally, if this review has whetted your appetite for the book, head for your computer and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. It may be an impediment for those who are not computer-savvy or having no credit card or electronic money transfer facilities. But, this mode of direct transaction seems to help the authors to peg the price down at Rs. 5,000 net (postage included in India). This, the authors claim, helps them to pass on as consumer’s surplus part of the money that would have otherwise gone to trade intermediaries. For foreign prospects, there is a dollar price that would be determined through e-mail depending on the country.
“That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed with profit.” –Amos Bronson Alcott, US philosopher (1799-1888). For me, this book met Alcott’s criteria.
[John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).]
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