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Flood-hit plantations look for rescue act

The United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI) has estimated the plantation crop loss in the recent floods, mainly in Kerala, parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, to be ₹5,543 crore with the highest loss in rubber at ₹1,662 crore followed by coffee at ₹1,360 crore, pepper at ₹1,200 crore and cardamom at ₹1,250 crore.

“We have lost approximately 500 hectares of rubber (in Kerala). Small growers could not tap during the rainy days and there is 70% defoliage in some places,” says Santosh Kumar, executive director, Harrisons Malayalam. For big companies, there are instances of even the infrastructure getting damaged. Adding to the woes of the rubber growers are the huge imports this year, expected to be almost five lakh tonnes.

Cardamom is grown by small farmers and it is a plant that cannot take water stagnation. More than 50% of the crop is lost, he says.

“The level of devastation varies. But all the plantation crops in the flood-affected areas have taken a hit. It will take about two years for the sector to come out of this,” says Nishant Gurjer, chairman, spices committee, UPASI and a large-scale spices cultivator.

Reviving plants

Planters can go in for replantation only next year and the yields may take a couple of years after that. The major concern now is the plant and how to revive it. The plantations are mostly small or medium holdings and the growers would not have gone for insurance as the premium is usually high.

Prices for the produce in the coming days will depend on a variety of factors, including the international production scenario, say the planters. For rubber, the price hovers around ₹128 a kg whereas the cost of production is expected to be not less than ₹160 a kg. The government should encourage domestic production by fixing a minimum price that covers the cost of production, says Mr. Kumar.

The sector, at different levels, is talking to the Central and State governments for support. There are small growers who have taken loans. They need to be repaid. There are many who need working capital. Then there is a need for financial help to replant and compensation for the crop loss.

Commodity boards should come out with special packages for all the affected areas. Further, there are substantial amounts outstanding to the growers in the existing schemes. These should be paid to the growers immediately, says UPASI.

This is said to be one of the largest losses suffered by the sector in south India due to natural calamities in the last five to six decades. Uncertain weather conditions witnessed in July-August and again now, is a real cause for concern. The sector needs to come out with new strategies to cope with the challenges posed by climate change, say the planters.

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