Our Thoughts On Agriculture Today.
Posted by Eric Brenner on August 9th, 2010
Well, I am finally done with my summer internship in Costa Rica. I came back to Texas about a week ago, and I am ready to jump back on the saddle to tackle my last semester as a graduate student. Even though it was hard to come back, I am ready to be back into the routine, and I am looking forward to graduate this December. This also means that I need to jump on the bandwagon and start looking for a job very soon.
If you have not been following my blogs, I spent my summer break working as an intern with the Ministry of Agriculture in Costa Rica. I was incorporated with DSOREA (Dirección Superior de Operaciones Regionales y de Extensión). This is the department inside the ministry of agriculture that manages, oversees, and implements the extension services in all the Costa Rican territory.
Up to this point, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences throughout the course of my master’s degree. Working with the ministry gave the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds like extension service specialists, agencies, universities, producers and farmers. But without a doubt, the best part was the opportunity to travel all around the country in order to analyze the extension service system, and evaluate the implementation process throughout the different regions around the country.
Many of these places I had the opportunity to visit are prominently known all around the world for its biodiversity and beauty. These National Reserves are sanctuaries for a wide array of ecosystems that support a rich variety of flora and fauna. Walking through the dense vegetation of rain forest, I found myself surrounded by the soothing sound nature, which helped me understand better how unique our planet is and how important is for us to take care of these ecosystems. I learned a great deal about the rain forests and other protected areas through specialists from the ministry, and how these specilists are actively implementing agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly. Overall, this experience helped me realize how agriculture is intrinsically related to many aspects of our lives that transcend beyond the production aspect, but we somehow fail to understand.
Irazu Volcano’s Crater
Coati at Irazu National Park
For instance, many people might not realize how closely agriculture, pharmaceutical, and the health industries are associated to each other. Many medical products like ointments, latex gloves, x-ray film, gelatin for capsules and heart valves come from the agriculture industry. In fact, the rain-forest supports millions of plant, animal, and insect species that supply some of the components that help create products like muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs. More important is the fact that there are new drugs still awaiting to be discovered that have the potential to cure AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses.
This is one of the greatest examples on how many agriculture careers permeate into other fields, and how industries outside the agriculture arena greatly depend on agriculture professionals for their operations. The World needs more agriculture professionals in fields like horticulture, zoology, entomology, and other similar degrees that can help find the cure for diseases that could be encapsulated in plants, insects, animals, and other kinds of wild life. We also need ecosystem, wildlife and fisheries science professionals that will help educate people how to protect and conserve our natural resources.
This tiny beetle was the size of my hand
Another pretty big bug
Experts estimate that around 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every single day due to rain-forest deforestation. This equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rain-forest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.
Presently, hundreds of prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain-forest ingredients. However, less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants in the rain-forests have actually been tested by scientists.
On my way to Tortuguero National Park
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, scientists have identified over 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells, and 70% of these plants are found in the rain-forest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rain-forest.
Not only agriculture has a broad array of career opportunities throughout many industries, it also is an indispensable component that feeds the world and has the potential to find the cures for life threatening diseases. So, next time somebody tells you that agriculture is a dead-end career, think again.About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and recently returned from a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.
Posted by Eric Brenner on July 12th, 2010
It has been a week and half since I last posted the article “Stepping out of your comfort zone.” Our blog is slowly but surely gaining some followers which is pretty exciting. I have been pretty busy visiting many wonderful parts of Costa Rica and meeting a lot of wonderful people.
Last week, I went to a coffee region called Tarrazu. The coffee produced in this area is rated among the best in the World. I had the opportunity to visit two “Microbenficios” or small coffee mills in Tarrazu along with other people from the ministry and some really nice extension service agents and professors from the University of Nebraska. These really friendly guys from UNL were visiting the country to research the extension services that are implemented in Costa Rica by the Ministry of Agriculture.
So far, this has been one of my favorite experiences from the whole trip because I had the opportunity to interact with the farmers and small producers. It was a very humbling experience to listen to the nice fellows from Nebraska interact and exchange information with these small farmers. In my opinion, this kind of interaction is the true essence in agriculture development because it creates an opportunity to work closely together with farmers and to truly listen to what they have to say.
The trips to these areas gave me an opportunity to learn how coffee is produced. More importantly, I discovered that there is a wide array of employment opportunities between all the links of the agriculture chain that begin with the producers and end with the consumers.
I am definitely not an expert, but after visiting a couple of coffee plantations I learned enough to determine what makes a good coffee. There is something about the aroma that I just love. Unlike my wife, who needs coffee to function properly throughout the day, I seldom have a cup of joe. I don’t really enjoy bitter flavors, so coffee is something I rarely drink. But like many things, coffee is an acquired flavor. And Like wine, which I truly enjoy, the art of coffee tasting could be as complex and delightful as wine tasting.
Even though I’m not an avid coffee drinker, the process that takes the bright red coffee cherry all the way to the freshly brewed cup is something all coffee drinkers should understand. Not only because it is very interesting, but it will also help you discern between a good and a bad cup of java.
Where did it all begin?
According to the story, around the year 800 A.D an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats acting pretty strange after they were grazing on the red berries from a coffee shrub. Perplexed by this discovery, he took the berries to a local monastery, where monks brewed a concoction that kept them alert throughout the night.
Coffee later made its way across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula Around A.D 1000. Based on the legend, Muslims were the first to roast and brew the coffee beans into the drink that is known today. Coffee later migrated to North Africa, Mediterranean, and India. It eventually reached Venice and the expanded to Europe around 1615. During the 18th century, a young French naval officer took some clippings from the coffee trees in the Botanical Gardens in Paris and took them to Martinique, a French Colony in the Caribbean. From Martinique, coffee later expanded to the American continent -South and Central America mostly – where it became one of the most important crops for the Latin American Colonies.
From the bean to the cup.
It takes around four years – from planting to harvesting – for a coffee plant to produce good quality berries. Coffee plants or shrubs depend on many factors to produce high quality beans that will result in great tasting coffee. These factors include the type of soil, elevation, plant variety, water, etc.
There are two main species of coffee that are cultivated for commercial consumption: Arabica and Robusta. In Costa Rica, 100% of the coffee cultivated is Arabica. According to the ICAFE, the Coffee Institute from Costa Rica, the Arabica specie produces a better bean with higher quality and aroma. The shrubs are cultivated in fertile soils of volcanic origins with low acidity; ideal conditions for the coffee plant. More than 80% of the coffee in Costa Rica is located in areas between 2700 ft to 5300 ft above sea level with temperatures ranging from 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and 78 and 118 inches of annual precipitation.
Harvesting time in Costa Rica depends on the region, but usually it takes place from October through March. Costa Rican coffee is rated among the best coffees in the World. This is a result of carefully choosing the best bean by only selecting ripened cherries, which is done by hand throughout thousands and thousands of hectares of cafetales (coffee plantations).
After harvesting, the cherries are then moved through a machine that depulps the coffee beans from the cherries. The beans then are washed and move to outside beds where they are then sun dried. It takes around five days to fully dry the coffee beans. The beans are usually turned every thirty minutes to allow for a uniform dry to avoid fermentation. After the beans are dried, they are bagged and sent to an oven for roasting and final processing.
If you want to know more about how coffee is produced, there are many websites on the Internet where you can find tons of information. This link is a great way to get started. As my internship approaches to the end, I will try to keep you updated every week with my progress. I have a lot of info I want to share and pictures to show you. Also, keep the comments coming, they really help us out. If you have suggestions, please let us know.
Until then, have a great a week.About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and currently on a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.