Karnataka coffee farmers selling estates, killing themselves: Report

Market prices, erratic weather and increasing input costs are making coffee cultivation unviable, it notes

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 06 December 2019
Market prices, erratic weather and increasing input costs are making coffee cultivation unviable, says report
Speakers at the launch of the 'Status on Indian Coffee 2019' in Bengaluru.  Speakers at the launch of the 'Status on Indian Coffee 2019' in Bengaluru.

Coffee farmers in Karnataka are either selling their estates or killing themselves as growing the cash crop is becoming increasingly unviable, a new report released on December 6, 2019, said.

The Status on Indian Coffee 2019 prepared by Karnataka Growers Federation and released in Bengaluru also noted that Karnataka’s coffee production had fallen by around 40 per cent even as input costs had increased.

Consistent, non-remuneration for drought, high incidence of pests and diseases, non-availability of credit and the exorbitant cost of labour had forced traditional coffee farmers to abandon their plantations, the report said.

It said that from 1999 to 2005 and from 2008 to 2018, the market price of coffee was depressed. Prices improved only in 2011, 2014 and 2015, when one kilogram of Arabica coffee cost more than Rs 250.

Besides market factors, the other major factor making coffee cultivation unviable was erratic weather.

During 2002-05 and 2008-16, farmers suffered due to drought. In 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2018-19, they suffered damages due to heavy rainfall.

During the 2019 Kharif season, the Karnataka government declared 80 taluks of 17 districts as flood-affected. These included the three coffee-growing districts of Kodagu (three taluks), Hassan (three taluks) and Chikmagalur (four taluks).

The three districts together produce more than 70 per cent of India’s coffee. They reported crop losses between 33 and 50 per cent. Around 1,20,000 million tonnes of coffee, valued at Rs 2,200 crore was destroyed due to flooding.

In 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2018-19, heavy rainfall caused severe infestation of pests and diseases like white stem borer and leaf rust, which resulted in about 30-80 per cent of plant loss, according to the report.

Between 2000 and 2008, area under coffee production increased by around two per cent whereas yield reduced by around 3 per cent. Between 2008 and 2018, yield reduced by around 39 per cent and cropping area reduced by 0.6 per cent. The decrease in yield directly impacted the growers’ income.

In addition to market prices and erratic weather, increase in cost of inputs like fertilisers has also caused misery among coffee farmers.

Input costs increased by 2.6 times in the last eight years. The cost of fertilisers including Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), Urea, Rock Phosphate, Suphala and Potash, was around Rs 1,540 in 2011. This increased to Rs 4,030 in 2019.

The cost of manures like murate of potash has risen from Rs 250 per bag in 2011 to Rs 945 per bag in 2019 is extremely worrying as potash is essential for formation of coffee berries. DAP cost has risen from Rs 500 per bag in 2011 to Rs 1,440 per bag.

Those who left coffee cultivation, were being forced in many cases to sell their estates at distress prices. They usually shifted to growing and selling silver timber for meeting their immediate needs.

According to the report, 150 coffee farmers killed themselves between 2001 and 2011.

It called for complete loan waiver, interest on loan being reduced to below 3 per cent, support for coffee growers collectives and cheap supply of fertilisers and pesticides.

They also demanded government assistance in re-plantation, water augmentation, eco-certification and support for small growers’ collectives or co-operatives for coffee marketing.

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