Amid the lockdown and the departure of the migrant labour force to their hometowns, pepper harvest and post-harvest processing of coffee have taken a hit in Kodagu.
Between 90% and 95% of coffee has been harvested subsequent to the lockdown curbs across the district, and the harvest of pepper, an inter-crop in coffee plantations, was to begin this month. Pepper is usually harvested between March and May, and estates in Kodagu largely depend on migrant workers for the task.
A majority of workers at these estates are primarily from north Karnataka and from neighbouring districts, including Periyapatna and Hunsur taluks in Mysuru. Local workers are also sourced for the job as the harvest area is large.
In view of the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, many workers have returned to their home districts, barring a few who have been working in the plantations for many years and reside in the estates themselves.
Coffee is cultivated on more than 1.05 lakh hectares in Kodagu. The industry has been in a state of crisis for the past two years as floods and landslips damaged crop and estates, besides affecting the overall productivity. The prices crashed, dashing the hopes of growers. The government had announced relief for the sector post-floods, but the woes of planters have not stopped yet.
After cases of COVID-19 were first reported in Kerala early this year, the Kodagu district administration issued directives to planters not to source workers from Kerala as a precaution.
“The coffee harvest is almost done. Pepper harvest may get delayed following the lockdown and shortage of workers. We are facing a shortage of 50-60% of migrant workers as a large number of them have returned to their native districts. We don’t know what will be the scenario after the lockdown ends, as we have to wait for the restoration of transportation and for the workers to return, as the resident workers cannot handle the large cultivated area,” said C.K. Belliappa, secretary, Coorg Planters’ Association.
The lockdown will also delay the post-harvest processing and handling of coffee. “The post-harvest activities used to go on till the month of June, provided the interventions started after the harvest. We are in a wait and watch mode now,” he said.
According to the CPA, the migrant workers who haven’t returned to their home towns despite the scare are safe in their homes in the estates. “The planters have provided them all the essentials and have taken precautions for their safety. There is no need for them to step out,” he said.
The rain fury last year destroyed plantations, and incessant rainfall resulted in extensive berry-dropping in coffee plantations. The district administration had estimated damage to 1,02,034 hectares of coffee estates. The crop loss was pegged at ₹51.85 crore. This excludes the loss suffered in the 2018 deluge.