Bitter coffee: rain and pests plague Kodagu planters

By: Antara Kumar

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Kodagu coffee plantation
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Fruits with rusted leaves
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New leaves in one of the plants
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Leaves damaged due to pest-attack and fungal diseases
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Bunch of coffee plants inside the plantation

Bangalore, October 6: Kodagu coffee planters are a worried lot. The recent heavy rainfall is likely to result in a poor harvest, say experts. Not just that, coffee plantations are already facing multiple challenges like pest attack, expensive labor, and fluctuating demand on the international coffee market.

Ramagounder, Deputy Director of Coffee Board in Madikeri, said that October-end is harvesting time, and if the rainfall continued to heavy, coffee bushes would be damaged. Heavy rainfall causes ‘leaf-rust’ in the leaves, he said. They turn yellowish and the fruits get damaged. This was particularly in the case of Arabica, he said.

Erratic rainfall affects the production on a large scale, agreed C. K. Belliappa, Secretary of Kodagu Planters’ Association in Madikeri. He explained that erratic rainfall causes splitting and dropping of the fruits long before they mature.
M.B. Abhimanyu Kumar, Member-Coffee Board and a planter in the Planters’ Association also said that the consequences of drastic climate change and fluctuation in rainfall resulted in lower production. He added that not even a ton of coffee could be produced from the latest harvest in the district.

“Due to climate change new pests have come up and they cause various diseases, especially in Arabica plants,” B. Mandanna, the former Vice Chairman of Coffee Board and presently a member of the Planters’ Association, stated.
Apart from rainfall, fungal disease is another problem that the plants have to battle. Belliappa stated that white stem-borers and African snails damaged the plants.

Mr. Ahmad, member of the coffee board, also said that climate change has not favoured coffee production. B. Mandanna stated that production of Robusta crops have seen a dip of about 30 per cent, whereas Arabica production has decreased by at least 10 per cent.

Climate change is not the only factor that affects the overall business of Coorg coffee. Belliappa said that the cost of production has gone up while prices of coffee have dropped. B. Mandanna added that the cost of production has increased by 30 per cent, whereas the price of coffee has gone down by a minimum of 20 per cent.

Due to better production in Brazil, Belliappa said, it is very difficult to compete in the global market.
B. Mandanna noted, “70 to 80 per cent of India’s production is exported. USA is the major customer for Arabica and the UK, for Robusta. As the international market has gone down, our prices have also dipped.”

Hence Coorg Coffee is looking for subsidy and price support from the government. Belliappa said that government supports the association with new infrastructure like water tanks, and replanting-explanting, but has not listened to the pleas regarding price-support or subsidy.

Ramagounder agreed with Belliappa’s that planters look for sustained production and that requires price stability.
“Shortage of skilled labor and frequent wild elephant attacks are other issues that affect coffee production,” Belliappa stated.


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