In what could be termed an early setback for coffee growers in the upcoming 2020-21 crop year, starting October, the patchy pre-monsoon rains are seen denting the prospects for the robusta variety. As a result, the worried growers want the Centre to intervene and extend some relief such as interest waiver and cheaper crop loans.
The pre-monsoon showers so far this year have been patchy across the main robusta coffee producing regions of Karnataka and Kerala, such as Kodagu, Chikmagaluru, Hassan and Wayanad. Over 98 per cent of India’s robusta output of 2.24 lakh tonnes is produced by the two States.
“The pre-monsoon rains or blossom showers have given a total miss this year,” said Shirish Vijayendra, Chairman of the Karnataka Planters Association. “It is a concern as the majority of the coffee growing areas have not received good rains and it is a big setback for the robusta crop.”
The timely arrival of pre-monsoon showers from late-February till mid-March is crucial for the blossoming of the coffee floral buds in the robusta variety, while in the case of Arabicas, the growing areas should ideally receive rains by mid-April. The blossom showers, which are normally backed by another spell of rains after a fortnight, called ‘backing showers’, play a crucial role in the setting of the crop.
While the rains have been poor and erratic in Kodagu, Hassan and Wayanad districts, there were hardly any showers in Chikamagaluru. As a result, growers are being forced to take up irrigation and use sprinklers for the robusta crop to make sure the floral buds blossom. Taking up irrigation would mean incurring an additional cost of 10-15 per cent towards cultivation expenditure, Vijayendra said.
The cumulative rain deficiency in Kodagu till March 18 since the beginning of the year was to the tune of 60 per cent, while it was higher in Chikkamagalur, at 65 per cent. Hassan has had a cumulative rain deficit of 34 per cent so far, according to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre.
In Kodagu, the largest coffee producing district, only 20-30 per cent of the areas have some received rains, said MC Kariappa, Chairman of the Codagu Planters Association. For growers who don’t have electricity, taking up irrigation would mean higher diesel costs.
The lack of weather-linked insurance cover is also a concern for the growers, Kariappa said. At present, there is no insurance scheme for the coffee sector and the growers of the commodity are not covered under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, he added.
In Hassan and parts of Chikamagalur, the situation has turned worse for some growers who have received inadequate rains that have damaged the blossom. “For the floral buds to blossom, the minimum rain fall should be upwards 70 cents to 1 inch above. However, in several areas of Hassan and Chikamagalur, the rains are only 10-20 cents amidst high temperature levels. Such inadequate rains hurt the process of blossom, resulting in withering of the flowers. Many areas have received such damaging showers,” said UM Tirthamallesh, President of the Karnataka Growers Federation, a body of small growers.
Tirthamallesh said the Centre should intervene now and provide a breather to growers who have been reeling under the impact of poor prices and changing climatic patterns. “We want the Centre to waive accumulated interest on coffee sector loans, which will be around ₹1,500, crore and extend fresh loans at a lower interest rate of 6 per cent. Also, growers should be kept out of (credit report of) CIBIL,” Tirthamallesh said.
In the robusta growing regions of Kerala, the early rains in February have provided some relief to the growers. “About 60 per cent of the area in Waynad have received the blossom showers this year, while in the remaining areas including Kalpetta and Mananthawadi, the lack of rain is a concern,” said Prashanth Rajesh of the Wayanad Coffee Growers Association.
While a large section of growers are concerned about the delay in rains, the Coffee Board and some growers believe that rains till mid-April could help ease the situation.
“So far, the rains have been patchy, but most of the robusta growers have irrigation facilities. If there is no rain by mid-April, there would be some setback for robusta growers in the areas where there is no irrigation. However, it is too early to comment now on the impact of poor blossom showers on the crop,” said Y Raghuramulu, Senior Adviser, Coffee Board.