Coonoor (Tamil Nadu) : Prolonged dry days, followed by heavy rains and pest attack during a belated monsoon are brewing production crisis for coffee planters in Karnataka, which accounts for 69 percent of the country’s bean production.
“Absence of pre-summer showers, a delayed monsoon remaining vigorous and invasion by the white stem borer pest in the Arabica variety plantations are likely to hit our production target in the crop year (October-September),” Coffee Board chairman Javed Akthar told in an interview here.
Though the state-run board has estimated an all-time high production of 344,750 tonnes for 2014-15 as part of its post-blossom forecast, the target is unlikely to be met due to 50 percent damage to plantations in the coffee-growing regions of the state across the rich bio-diverse Western Ghats.
“About 10 million (100 lakh) Arabica plants have to be removed from 3,200 hectares across coffee regions to check the spread of white stem borer, which flares up due to erratic rainfall and rising temperature in the Deccan Plateau,” Akhtar said on the margins of the commodity plantations event.
The dreaded pest, which attacks only in India among the world’s 10 coffee-producing countries, is a brown coloured beetle that damages coffee plants and causes a yield loss up to 40 percent.
“The larvae typically enter a plant’s stem and burrows up to its roots. Infested plants turn yellow and their leaves wilt. Though old plants get damaged, new plants perish,” Akthar pointed out.
Of the total output the board has projected a quarter ago, Robusta variety is estimated to be 239,250 tonnes and Arabica 105,500 tonnes for the ensuing crop year.
Planters, however, claim that the board’s estimates are unrealistic in view of the pest menace and excess rains in the Malnad region of the state that continues this month.
“The board made a similar estimate of 347,000 tonnes last year (2013-14) only to revise downwards by 10 percent, as the final production slumped to 304,500 tonnes as against 318,200 tonnes in 2012-13,” a coffee planter told here.
Contrary to the board’s projection, the Karnataka Planters’ Association (KPA) estimates that the production will be about 300,000 tonnes, as conditions remain same as last year.
“Heavy rains from July till this week in the coffee belt have also led to cherries falling off the bushes and absence of sunlight for days led to water stagnating in the estates, which may result in black rot disease setting in,” KPA president D.G. Jayaram noted.
Of the total output (304,500 tonnes) in 2013-14, Karnataka produced 211,100 tonnes of Arabica and Robusta, Kerala 66,675 tonnes and Tamil Nadu 18,775 tonnes.
Similarly, of the total 415,341 hectares of land in which the aromatic beans are grown, 347,236 hectares are spread across the three southern states, with Karnataka having 230,333 hectares, followed by Kerala 85,359 hectares and Tamil Nadu 31,544 hectares.
“We have taken integrated pest management steps (IPM) on mission mode to tackle the menace and limit its fallout in unaffected estates by training and demonstrating to planters and small growers with less than five hectares of holding,” Akhtar said.
The board has roped in the state-run Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) for collaborative research on the menace and engaged private labs such as Bio-control Research Lab to identify female pheromones and Kairomons.
“We have also submitted an action plan to the commerce ministry for on catch, kill, gap filling, community nurseries on mission mode and develop the beans with tolerance to pests and diseases,” Akhtar observed.
Unlike tea, which is largely consumed across the country, about 70 percent of the Indian coffee is exported the world over, especially to Europe and the US.
“Though exports declined nine percent to 122,340 tonnes in first five months of this fiscal (2014-15) from 134,361 tonnes in same period of last fiscal (2013-14), value realisation was 4.3 percent up at Rs.2,084 crore from Rs.1,998 crore, as unit price was 15 percent more at Rs.170 per kg than Rs.149 per kg,” United Planters’ Association of Southern India (Upasi) commodities head R. Sanjith told .
Year-on-year, exports increased 4.4 percent to 312,454 tonnes in fiscal 2013-14 from 299,275 tonnes in fiscal 2012-13 and value realization was also 4.6 percent higher at Rs.4,760 crore as against Rs.4,552 crore though unit value was same – Rs.152 per kg.
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