Kerala has announced a draft policy on plantations to strengthen the sector and improve the living and service conditions of workers.

The policy envisages augmenting manufacturing, diversification, processing, marketing and preserving value-based plantation products.

Crisis situation

The sector is passing through a crisis following unlimited import of agricultural produce, dampening the demand for indigenous crops. A steep decrease in the domestic output and its quality, together with erratic weather patterns are also responsible for the current crisis.

Kerala produces around 48 per cent of the total plantation crops in India. The State accounts for 76.5 per cent of rubber, 88.6 per cent of cardamom, 22.05 per cent of coffee and 4.54 per cent of tea produced in the country. Around 3.3 lakh labourers are directly dependant on plantations.

In 2012-13, the sector generated ₹21,000 crore, which was 33 per cent of the total domestic agricultural produce. But in 2018-19, the production decreased to ₹9,945.15 crore. Consequently, 13 plantations were closed down and about 3,000 workers were rendered jobless.

State Labour Minister TP Ramakrishnan blamed the policies of the Centre and FTAs for the crisis, as it led to relaxation of rules, paving the way for unlimited imports of plantation products. Besides, climate variations have also adversely affected the output of plantation crops, he said. “It is in this context, the draft plantation policy is chalked out for a permanent solution to their problems,” the Minister added.

Lease renewals

The draft policy envisages renewal of lease of the plantation land in a timely manner to enable owners to get funds and subsidies from banks. The cultivation practice being followed in the plantation sector is single crop, limiting the yield and income. It was, therefore, decided to permit mixed-cropping and inter-cropping.

Munnar, Peermedu aned Nelliampathy have favourable weather conditions for producing vegetables in winter season. The cultivation of fruit bearing plants as inter crop can considerably increase the income from plantations.

To ensure reasonable revenue, measures will be taken to process and store plantation produce and to find suitable market for them. The existing auction system for farm produce would be altered to ensure better pricing after consultation with Central agencies. The cluster programmes will be extended to the plantation industry with a view to encouraging value addition.

Hostile weather conditions

The shortage of rainfall, prolonged drought, destructive rains and wind, and extreme winter have further damaged the business. Efforts should be made to protect and reviatilse the soil, water and air in the Western Ghats.

The potentials and possibilities of farm tourism will be worked out without altering the basic structure of the plantations. The non-conventional energy sources available with the plantations can be used for power generation by using resources such as biomass, wind and solar, the draft policy said.