Sowing hope, reaping despair

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Farmers have had a harrowing time this season, with deluge, drought, price fall, and crop diseases robbing them of their hard-earned yield

Asokan, a farmer at Cheeramkunnu in Wayanad district, uprooted rubber trees on his three-acre plot and planted pepper vines five years ago, when the price of pepper reached ₹600 a kg. A sharp decline in rubber price and the alluring price of pepper tempted him to plant the vines. He spent more than ₹4.5 lakh to raise the pepper vines, for which he borrowed ₹4 lakh from a nationalised bank. His harvest last year was 350 kg of pepper.

Then, rain struck. “A few plants started to wilt just after the harvest. In the torrential rain, a disease spread widely. In the deluge that followed, the crop was destroyed,” says Asokan.

Same is the plight of farmers of other crops all over the State. As the harvest of major farm produce such as coffee, black pepper, and areca nut is coming to an end, farmers in the key producing regions of the State are facing a double whammy of poor yield and lower prices.

Whiff of misery

The incessant southwest monsoon in August last year had impacted the crops in the major producing areas, especially in hilly areas such as Idukki and Wayanad districts.

Coffee farmers in the State were relieved when the plants bloomed profusely after good pre-monsoon showers in April last year. They hoped the season would help them recoup the losses incurred the previous year owing to a drought-like situation. However, incessant rain since June dashed their hopes with coffee berries being affected by various diseases.

30% to 40% decline

“There’s neither crop nor price this year,” says Prasanth Rajesh, president, Wayanad Coffee Growers Association. There is a decline of 30% to 40% in coffee production in the district. As per the post-blossom crop forecast of the Coffee Board for the 2018-19 fiscal, the Robusta coffee production in the State is placed at 66,345 tonnes, including 58,160 tonnes from Wayanad, 6,500 tonnes from the south Kerala, and 1,775 tonnes from Nelliampathy.

Drawing a blank

This could mean more trouble for coffee growers, who are already reeling under the impact of higher cost of production due to rising wages and increasing input costs. “I have two acres of Robusta coffee plantation and the yield last year was 94 bags of coffee bean, each 54 kg,” says P. Joy, a small-scale farmer at Venniyodu in Kottathara grama panchayat. This time, the coffee berries were washed away after the 36-year-old plantation remained inundated for five days. “I could not harvest a single coffee berry this season,” he adds. The torrential rain and floods affected 643 farmers in Kottathara grama panchayat alone. Many farmers are yet to get compensation for the crop loss, he says.

Coffee break-up

Sowing hope, reaping despair

According to the data available with the board, coffee acreage in the State is 84,696 hectares, including 67,366 hectares in Wayanad district, 12,680 hectares in Idukki, and 4,650 hectares at Nelliampathy in Palakkad district.

As many as 77,210 farmers cultivate coffee in the State, including 59,621 growers in Wayanad, 17,035 in Idukki, and 554 growers in Nelliampathy. Prasanth says the current coffee prices are unsustainable as they are below the cost of production, which has been going up.

On Saturday, the price of one kg of Robusta coffee beans was ₹120, a fall from the ₹150 a kg in October 2018. With a glut in the international market, the prices may not see any improvement anytime soon, he says.

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