Agri Business

Covid surge: Planters worried over return of labour from north-east

Vishwanath KulkarniV Sajeev Kumar Bengaluru | Updated on April 16, 2021

In Kerala the pineapple sector is reported to be worst-hit with more than 50% workers headed back home

The surge in the second Covid-19 wave is likely to aggravate labour scarcity in the coffee- and rubber-producing regions of Karnataka and Kerala as rising infections and curbs imposed by various States is likely to impact the return of migrant labour from States such as Assam and West Bengal.

Workers from Assam, Chhattisgarh and Bengal, who account for close to half of the workers in Karnataka coffee estates, have gone home to cast their votes in the Assembly elections.Around five lakh workers are estimated to be employed in Karnataka’s coffee sector. Most of the workers left for their home States in early March and the shortage of labourers is being felt during the coffee and pepper harvest this year, growers said.

“We were hoping that they would return by mid-May, but the rising Covid-19 infections remain a concern,” said UM Tirthamallesh, President of Karnataka Growers Federation. The migrant labourers are expected to return back post-elections and festive season in mid-May.

With coffee regions beginning to receive pre-monsoon rains, normal cultural operations such as pruning, shade lopping, manuring and spraying are set to begin and growers fear that impact of shortage would be felt on their costs they would be competing for the shrunk labour pool.

Pineapple growers’ woes

“As the elections are getting over in phases, they had promised to come back...But now with the lockdown, whether they will be allowed to move out of the village remains to be seen,” said Jeffrey Rebello, a planter in Sakleshpur and Chairman of Upasi Coffee Committee.

In Kerala the pineapple sector is reported to be worst-hit, as growers say up to 50 per cent of workers, mainly from the poll-bound states, have headed back home. The second Covid-19 wave has worsened the situation, Baby John, president of Pineapple Growers Association Keralam told.This has coincided with the harvest time when the sector is getting ready to meet the surging demand for the ensuing Ramadan festival season, amid rising prices of the fruit. In the pineapple sector engages 25,000 migrant workers of which at least 20,000 workers had trudged back home, he said.

The rubber sector has also to bear the brunt of migrant labour shortage impacting the output and dispatch of materials, says George Valy, president, Indian Rubber Dealers Federation.

Published on April 15, 2021

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