Staff Reporter

Six crisis-ridden districts to get aid

BANGALORE: The long-awaited financial package announced by the Centre for the six districts of Belgaum, Chitradurga, Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Hassan and Kodagu, which have reported suicide by farmers, will be announced by the end of the month.

Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh told presspersons here on Thursday that the package would comprise agricultural credit, loan rescheduling, interest rate reduction, irrigation and livestock development. Earlier, Mr. Ramesh unveiled the official mascot for coffees of India, `Coffee Swami,' and launched the India International Coffee Festival to be held in February 2007.

He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would make an official announcement about the package for the six districts. About the three coffee growing districts of Kodagu, Hassan and Chikmaglur, Mr. Ramesh said loans of farmers in those areas would be rescheduled to boost the production of coffee. Funds for the package would come from the Centre. Asked whether such a package for the agricultural sector would attract criticism from the World Trade Organisation, he said it had nothing to do with that organisation. Totally, 31 districts in the country were getting this package to help farmers. In South India, he said, the Centre would announce packages for 16 districts in Andhra Pradesh, six each in Karnataka and Maharashtra and three in Kerala.

The Minister said the Coffee Board was concentrating on Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala with a particular emphasis on increasing domestic consumption, which had been stagnant for a long time. He said the coffee sector provided employment to over six lakh people. The per capita consumption of coffee in the country was 80 gm and it should be raised to 4 kg. There was a great urgency to introduce coffee in the non-traditional areas of the northeast, the east and northern parts of the country.

The Minister launched the website of the Coffee Board. Domestic consumption, which rose to 80,000 tonnes annually from 50,000 tonnes in 2000, should be doubled in the next 10 years by making it a mass drink.

Coffee Board Chairman G.V. Krishna Rau welcomed the gathering.

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