Floods have wiped out acres of Indian coffee plantations

Indian coffee production, suffering from two successive years of lower-than-normal rainfall, was looking for relief this year. But ironically, these hopes have been dashed by excessive rains.

Karnataka and Kerala, two of the country’s biggest coffee-producing regions, lie devastated due to floods and landslides. Plantations are ruined and supply chains disrupted, severely threatening production. In all, India’s coffee production could drop by as much as 20% this year.

These two southern states’ cumulative production accounts for 90% of the coffee output in India, the world’s sixth-largest producer of the crop. These regions primarily grow the Robusta variety of coffee. Some 70% of all of India’s coffee is exported to Italy, Russia, Germany, Belgium, and other countries. In 2017, India exported coffee worth Rs6,226 crore.

While in Karnataka, it is the Kodagu district in the southwest that is the hub of plantations, in Kerala, it is Wayanad, Palakkad, and Idukki.

Abnormally excessive monsoon rains have left hundreds dead and financial losses of millions of dollars in their trail this month across these states. The two are only now limping back to normal, so a final picture of the devastation could emerge only weeks from now.

Karnataka

Karnataka is India’s largest coffee-producing region, accounting for up to 70% of its output.

Last year, the state produced 222,300 metric tonnes, mostly the Robusta variety used to make instant coffee powder, followed by Arabica.

The state’s prominent coffee-growing regions include Kodagu, Chikmagalur, and Hassan. Kodagu, which produces the largest quantity, has suffered severe damage due to floods over the past few weeks. Some 20 people have reportedly died in the district and over 3,000 are in relief camps.

Landslides and flash floods have also cut off access to many estates.

Ayapa, a planter in Kodagu’s Madikeri area, expects heavy losses this year. Landslides have turned coffee crop to sludge, he said, not wishing to disclose his surname. “The topsoil has been eroded in some areas and plantations have been completely washed off,” Ayapa said. “The situation is yet to be fully assessed, but production could drop sharply for the year.”

Kerala

In Kerala, which is reeling from its worst natural calamity in over a decade, the output of coffee production is expected to drop, too.

The state accounts for 20.8% of India’s coffee production, making it the second-largest producer. In 2017-18, coffee production from the state was estimated at 65,735 metric tonnes. Here, too, the Robusta variety is grown largely.

The state government has estimated initial losses of over Rs30,000 crore, and the damage to infrastructure and agriculture could take years to mend.

For coffee-producing areas, especially Wayanad, the news is dampening. “Not only the crop but the plants are also damaged and that will take another three to four years to recoup. Many areas have been affected by landslides,” ALRM Nagappan, chairman of the coffee committee at the United Planters’ Association of Southern India, told Bloomberg.

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