Flood-hit K’taka coffee growers seek relief from Centre

Reeling under huge losses due to heavy rains, flash floods, landslides and Covid-induced lockdown, the Karnataka coffee growers sought a bailout from the Centre, including interest waiver and rescheduling of bank loans to recover from the natural disasters, an official said on Saturday.

“Even as we were grappling from Covid-induced extended lockdown from April to June, our estates have been badly hit by excess rains, floods and landslides in July and August, causing huge damage to our plantations,a leading grower and state-run Coffee Board Chairman M.S. Boje Gowda told IANS here.

In the absence of specific support for the coffee sector from the Centre’s Rs 20-crore economic package announced in mid-May, the growers petitioned Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday through video-conference sought restructuring of bank loans and interest waiver as was done with a special coffee term loan (SCTL) package in the past.

“We have lost 35-50 per cent of the berries due to incessant rains, floods and landslides in coffee-growing districts of Kodagu, Chikkamagluru and Hassan in the southern state, which will reduce the production this year,” said Gowda.

As the largest producer of the aromatic beans, Karnataka accounts for about 70 of coffee production in the country, with dozen districts across the central, coastal and southern regions of the state spawning the rich-bio diverse Western Ghats in the Deccan plateau, producing the beans since 500 years.

“While the extended lockdown disrupted operations and damaged berries when plucking was at peak in March, suspension of public transport and restricted vehicular movement prevented growers from harvesting the berries and pepper inter-crop, as workers could not commute to estates for weeks,” recalled Karnataka Planters’ Association Chairman Shirish Vijayendra.

The beleaguered sector is yet to recover from the production loss in 2018 and 2019 due to heavy untimely rains and floods in the coffee-growing districts.

“The government should restructure our crop and development loans into a single term loan, extend repayment period to 9 years, with a 2-year moratorium,” said Vijayandra.

The growers also urged the ministry to reduce the interest rate on crop and development loans to 3 per cent per annum to ease the burden on the growers during the Covid crisis.

“As in the case of other sectors, especially farmers, interest on loans for inter-crops like pepper should be waived to compensate for the loss incurred due to the twin crisis — pandemic and floods,” Gowda added.

Coffee production declined 50 per cent in 2019-20 and 35 per cent in 2018-19 due to heavy rain, floods and landslides from about 3,00,000 tonnes in the past. Fall in international prices also affected export revenue.