Dr. Pereira is a microbiologist & a coffee farmer and owns the Kirehully Estate in the Western Ghats, in Hassan District, India. Ms. Geeta Pereira, wife of Dr. Anand Pereira is a horticulturist and a coffee farmer.
Yes. We have observed first hand the deterioration of soil characteristics due to the continuous use of chemical fertilizers. It results in the rampant reduction in the levels of soil fertility and yields. It has been increasingly clear that such chemical mode of farming is not sustainable. The ecological damage cannot be quantified in terms of money. Ground water pollution due to nitrates which are carcinogens is yet another big problem. The soil turns hard and the micro flora is significantly altered. The root zone which harbors the maximum amount of beneficial micro flora becomes extremely hard leaving no space for secondary roots to grow resulting in run off of most chemical fertilizers. Whenever urea the most commonly applied nitrogenous fertilizer is applied, in ideal conditions only a part of it is absorbed by the plant and the rest reaches ground water. The hydrogen ion concentration of the soil changes (pH) resulting in the unavailability of both chemical and organic nutrients. Over a short period of time the plant stops responding to the application of chemical poisons. The unhealthy coffee bush then requires additional inputs of chemicals. The gains of using chemical poisons are just temporary and in the long run the yields are severely impacted. Chemicals are quick to act but they leave behind a trail of poisons in the soil. The very future of farming is affected.
The majority of the planting community has realized the detrimental effects of repeated use of fertilizers and chemicals. Hence more and more coffee farmers are trying to reduce the inputs of chemicals and apply organic manures in the form of biomass, farm yard manure and compost. The principle aim is to use ecofriendly, biodegradable materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of the natural systems. Farmers incorporate tons of biomass in the form of leaf litter, wood shavings, and animal droppings into the soil from time to time. Animal wastes (cattle/sheep/poultry, piggery) and coffee husk are also constantly incorporated into the soil which gets converted into available nutrients for plant growth and development. This ongoing process not only maintains soil fertility, but also enhances it. In case the farmers do not have sufficient quantities of organics they in turn buy small amounts of neem cake, fish meal and mix it with their home made compost and apply it to the field. Hence it is a healthy balance between low external chemical inputs and more of organics. This optimizes the health, wealth and productivity of the entire interdependent coffee biotic community comprising of plants, trees, microbial, insect, animal life and human beings.