Bengaluru: Year 2020 has been a double whammy for Karnataka coffee planters, as they reel under the Covid pandemic and the damage caused by heavy rains to the beans during the recent south-west monsoon.
“The financial year (2020-21) began in April with the Covid-induced lockdown and pandemic disruption to the plantation sector. Even as we were grappling with the virus fallout, heavy rains and floods from August to October damaged the coffee estates,” Karnataka Planters Association (KPA) Chairman Shirish Vijayendra told IANS on Friday.
The commodity plantation sector was already in distress and suffered huge losses due to heavy rains, landslides and floods over the last two years.
“The estimated loss to the coffee sector due to Covid is Rs 441 crore, including Rs 131 crore of Robusta crop, Rs 88 crore of Arabica crop, Rs 144 crore of inventory, Rs 78 crore of pepper crop and Rs 250 crore of exports,” said Vijayendra from Chikamagalur in the state’s northwest region.
As the largest producer of the aromatic beans, Karnataka accounts for about 70 per cent of the coffee production in the country. The beans are grown in 5 districts — Chamarajanagar, Chikamagalur, Dakshina Kannada, Hassan and Kodagu — across the rich bio-diverse Western Ghats in the Deccan plateau.
Incessant rains during the monsoon season in Chikamagalur, Dakshina Kannada, Hassan and Kodagu caused landslides, gusty winds, floods which washed away plantations and damaged infrastructure in the estates.
Ironically, the sector also suffered from drought and dry weather for 3 consecutive years from 2015 to 2017 due to the failure of the southwest monsoon, which begins in June and ends in September every year.
Post-blossom production of coffee beans in the southern state declined 30-35 per cent since 2017-18.
The Coffee Board of the Union Commerce Ministry estimated 2,98,000 tonne production for 2019-20 against 3,19,500 tonne in 2018-19.
“Due to heavy rains and floods, Arabica production declined to 87,000 tonnes from an estimated 95,000 tonnes and Robusta to 2,11,000 tonnes from 2,24,500 tonnes in 2019-20,” Vijayendra recalled.
The KPA made a representation to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal for relief for the huge losses the plantation sector suffered due to Covid and heavy rains.
“We have sought interest waiver, restructuring of loans, including stressed assets and reduction in interest rates from the finance minister, as the sector is going through deep financial crisis due to Covid and rains,” said Vijayendra.
Incidentally, Sitharaman represents Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“As we could not service bank loans, we faced severe fund crunch and cash flows. Work in plantations came to a standstill due to lockdown and restrictions on movement of people and vehicles in April and May,” he noted.
The lockdown measures to contain the virus spread also disrupted plantation activities, including curing, trading and export operations.
As most of the migrant workers engaged in the plantations went back to their native places, the harvest of coffee and pepper and their transportation to the markets was delayed.
As cafes and restaurants remained shut, consumption and demand for coffee also declined over the months.
The 6-decade-old KPA has members from coffee, tea, pepper, cardamom and rubber plantations.