As aggravating distress triggers suicides in the coffee heartland of Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka, growers have stepped up demand for a loan waiver and want the commodity to be brought under the ambit of the minimum support price (MSP) regime.

Releasing a report, ‘Status on Indian Coffee 2019,’ UM Thirthamallesh, President of the Karnataka Growers Federation (KGF), said producers are facing one of the biggest episodes of distress in the century.

Hit by three years of consecutive droughts followed by two years of excess rains, pests, rising cultivation costs, changing climate and prices at a 26-year low, the growers have been caught in a debt trap and are abandoning their plantations.

Unable to service their loans, three growers have committed suicide in Chikkamagaluru district in recent months, Thirthamallesh said.

“To retain the flavour of coffee, save the environment, protect about 15 lakh jobs and 1.5 lakh growers in the State, the government should intervene and support growers in distress immediately by announcing a one-time waiver of all outstanding agriculture loans of ₹8,000 crore,” Tirthmallesh said. Further, there is a need to bring coffee under MSP to ensure assured prices for growers, he said.

Karnataka accounts for 70 per cent of the 3.2 lakh tonnes of coffee produced in the country. The KGF represents the interests of small coffee growers with holdings of less than 10 hectares in the State. Small growers account for some 98 per cent of the total holdings in the country.

CT Ravi, Karnataka Tourism Minister, told growers that the Centre will be approached by the State to include coffee under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Lack of a proper insurance scheme for coffee has added to the growers’ woes.

Loan misery

Farm policy expert Devinder Sharma, expressing surprise at the suicides in the coffee belt, said the growers are in as bad a situation as farmers in other parts of the country such as Punjab or Vidarbha. “If the government can write off corporate loans to the tune of ₹80,000 crore in the first six months of this year, then why can’t they waive off the ₹8,000 crore loans of coffee growers,” Sharma said.

Stressing the need to support the coffee growers, Sharma said: “If you write off their loans, it saves 2.2 lakh coffee farmers from abandoning agriculture. That’s the kind of livelihood support the coffee growers need today.” Further, Sharma exhorted the coffee growers to unite with other farmers and agriculture workers to make their voices heard.