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Plantations swoon under coronavirus attack, suffer heavy losses

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KOCHI: The plantation sector is in the grip of a deepening crisis as cash crops have suffered heavy losses during the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. Kerala, which is home to several plantation crops, has borne the brunt of the loss, while the rapidly growing number of virus victims in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are likely to make matters worse for those states.

The Association of Planters of Kerala (APK) has estimated the loss in the plantation industry in the state to be nearly Rs. 500 crore, with the rubber sector alone suffering damage of Rs. 300 crore.

The loss would be around Rs. 125 crore in tea plantations and about Rs. 20 crore for cardamom after all the operations have been hit since March 23, according to the industry body. In cardamom and coffee plantations where the harvest is over, the irrigation and application of fertilisers and pesticides have been affected, and hence the loss is calculated to be minimal.

The Kerala government relaxed the conditions from Friday to allow harvesting, processing irrigation, pesticide application and transportation in a limited way with one employee in half an acre for tea and one acre in cardamom. “We have requested the Centre for payment of lockdown period wages, interest write-off for the moratorium period and benchmark pricing system for plantation crops,” said Ajith BK, APK secretary.

In addition, the APK has requested the state government to waive fixed tariff for electricity, provide funds from welfare fund board, bring irrigation processing tariff under agriculture and extend health equipment to plantation workers.

In Karnataka, the largest coffee producing state in the country, the lockdown has hit processing, nursery activities, transport and irrigation even though the plucking of beans is over in most places. “These crucial activities for the cultivation of the next crop have been hit by shortage of workers. The transport of workers from neighbouring villages has come to a standstill,” said Shirish Vijayendra, Karnataka Planters’ Association chairman.


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