Coffee growers in parts of Kodaikanal, mostly from Thandigudi, are much concerned over the declining price of the commodity.
Since the current coffee price does not yield much profit, the growers are reluctant to take up its cultivation in the lower Palani hills of Kodaikanal such as Thandigudi, KC. Patti, Kamanur, Kuppammalpatti, Adalur, Panrimalai, Perumparai and Pachalaur.
With 10 acres of coffee plantation, V. Ashok, a coffee grower from Kodalankadu village, near Thandigudi, says a significant drop in yield and marginal rise in cost of production have demoralised the growers, who are also fearful of the future.
Since weather is not conducive, it has affected the cultivation considerably. “Coffee is mainly a rainfed cultivation. The average annual rainfall in Thandigudi is 64 inches, but it was much below over the last five years, when it recorded an average of 45 inches only. The average crop yield is about six tonnes from 10 acres, but it has dwindled to two and half tonnes,” the aggrieved grower said.
Another coffee grower, Mahesh from Pattiveeranpatti, said since large quantities of coffee were imported from Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee, it resulted in price decline. Much to the agony, despite increasing production cost, the market price also came down drastically.
As for PRM. Ravichandran, secretary, Thandigudi Small Coffee Growers Association, it incurs an expenditure of about Rs 65,000 on production cost per acre. Only when a kilo fetches Rs 250 and beyond at procurement point, a coffee grower could survive in the market. But now, it fetches Rs170 a kilo. Its market price was primarily determined by the International Coffee Organisation, London. Though coffee is produced in parts of Tamil Nadu, which stands next to Karnataka and Kerala, including Yercaud, Bodi, Kolli hills and Sirumalai, the shade-grown coffee from the lower hills in Kodaikanal has got its own significance owing to its soil condition at high altitude plantation, conducive weather and with excellent mulching beds.
To resurrect this coffee sector from the brink of collapse, the Coffee Board should offer subsidy for replanting and providing insurance cover for plantation sites often damaged by wild elephants and bison. More importantly, all should be brought under Rainfall Insurance Scheme for Coffee Growers, he said.
After being unable to shell out plantation maintenance and high production cost, VPB. Sivakumar, another coffee grower from Thandigudi, said he abandoned cultivation over the last three years. But since coffee market is rebounding, he said he is embarking on efforts to replant coffee on his 20 acres.
In the past, the Coffee Board office, which was functional at Thandigudi, used to help the growers in marketing. But, now the middlemen are ruling the roost, affecting the fortunes of the coffee growers. The board should help directly in procuring coffee beans from the growers here, he opined.
Much to the relief of coffee growers, fresh activity is brewing to drive their interest and keep their hopes alive, C. Babou, Deputy Director (Research) Regional Coffee Research Station of Coffee Board, Thandigudi, said.
The Coffee Board has launched ‘Coffee Blockchain’, a market place mobile App on a trial basis to avoid middlemen and to facilitate market strategies to benefit the coffee growers.
As many as 450 growers, who adopt cultivation of species mainly ‘Arabica’ and ‘Robusta’, have registered at Thandigudi. More importantly, its market trend has moved a bit higher over the last three months owing to its quality. In a step further, the Coffee Board has embarked upon a move to get ‘Geographical Indication’ tag for the Kodaikanal fame coffee.
According to K. Narayanasamy, Deputy Director of Horticulture, Kodaikanal, poor maintenance triggered loss of about 20 per cent over the last year. He said coffee is a perennial crop that grows round the year in two forms in the lower hills covering an extent of 6,500 hectares.