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It’s ‘raining’ trouble for plantation sector in Kerala, Karnataka

Vishwanath Kulkarni V.Sajeev Kumar Kochi/Bengaluru | Updated on August 19, 2018

Coffee plantations and areca farms have been affected due to heavy rain in the Malenadu region of Karnataka (file picture)   -  THE HINDU

Growers peg losses at around ₹700 cr in Kerala, around ₹2,000 crore in Karnataka

 

The heavy rainfall and winds continuing across Kerala and south-western parts of Karnataka have left the plantation growers crying. The most affected regions by the landslides and floods, such as Munnar, Wayanad, Nelliampathy in Kerala, and Kodagu, Chikamagalur and Hassan in Karnataka, are key locations for the plantation industry.

In Kerala, around 40,000 hectares of agricultural land have reportedly been destroyed and the initial estimates put the loss at around ₹900 crore. Of this, the plantations sector’s damage constitutes ₹600-700 crore.

As the plantations’ growing areas are inaccessible, the real picture of the loss to crops such as tea, rubber, cardamom, and pepper, can be expected to be larger than the current assessment, Ajith BK, Secretary, Association of Planters of Kerala, told BusinessLine. The unexpected floods have pushed the sector deeper into trouble especially when it was passing through a critical phase due to low prices of commodities, climate vagaries, high wages, etc.

Bleak prospects for tea

According to N Dharmaraj, Whole Time Director and CEO of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd, the tea trend in South India is “bleak” as July and August production is expected to be very low because of rain in most of the growing regions of Kerala, Karnataka and the Anamalais (Tamil Nadu).

 

 

The drop is expected to be in the range of 40-60 per cent. In the medium-term, CTC tea prices will move up due to the the current precipitous fall in output.

On rubber, he said the outlook for prices is not positive as the market continues to be clouded by many uncertainties. The blow comes just ahead of the peak producing months — September and October — and when the industry is already grappling with a decline in production due to growers abandoning tapping on lower realisation. Kerala produces around 85 per cent of the country’s rubber.

Coffee crop damaged

In Karnataka, which accounts for over 70 per cent of the coffee produced in the country, rain has damaged plantations in the producing regions of Kodagu and Chikmagaluru.

“The unprecedented rain has resulted in devastation of coffee plantations of unimaginable proportion. Not only the plantations have been washed away in the floods and landslides, the coffee plants have been uprooted in vast areas. Also the heavy rain has triggered berry droppings. The properties of plantation growers, the labour quarters and other infrastructure in the estates have been damaged in these districts,” said HT Pramod, Chairman, Karnataka Planters Association (KPA), the apex body of planters in the State.

“This kind of a rainfall was witnessed way back in 1963-64,” remembers BS Jairam, President of the Karnataka Growers Federation, a body of small- and medium-size coffee growers. The precipitation has been twice or even thrice the normal in several areas, Jairam says adding that rain has damaged the coffee crop triggering berry droppings, besides impacting badly the pepper vines.

The excessive rain and with winds have washed off the pepper spikes in both the States. Many vines have turned their new shootings into leaf due to excessive rain and this will affect pepper production. The water-logging in the areas is likely to damage the cultivation extensively, said Kishore Shamji of the Kochi-based Kishore Spices.

 

Crop losses

Both KPA and the KGF are provisionally estimating the losses suffered by the coffee sector at ₹1,500-2,000 crore. A clearer picture would emerge once these areas are surveyed by State agencies. The planters’ bodies estimate the 2018-19 coffee crop loss at 70-80 per cent.

Besides, growers have also suffered losses in other crops such as pepper, arecanut, paddy and some horticultural crops. India’s coffee production stood at 3.16 lakh tonnes during the current 2017-18 season ending September.

Diseases outbreak

“Crop losses could go beyond 50 per cent in Kodagu, Wayanad, Idukki, Hassan and Chikamagalur,” said Y Raghuramulu, Director, Research, Coffee Board. “The rainfall this year has been a calamity in several areas of these districts. The worry now is a build-up in diseases, if the rain continues for few more days,” Raghuramulu said.

Already, in some areas there has been an outbreak of fungal diseases such as the black rot and the stalk rot, besides fruit dropping.

Coffee shipments hit

Shipments of coffee from the region have also taken a hit as roads connecting Kodagu to Mangaluru or Kochi have been blocked due to landslides or flood damage. Truckers are reluctant to move cargo, said Ramesh Rajah, President of the Coffee Exporters Association.

While the coffee exports for the current season will be impacted due to the rain and floods disrupting vehicular movement, Rajah fears that shipments for the 2018-19 season starting October will also be affected due to the reduced availability of the crop.

Published on August 19, 2018

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