Unprecedented January Rains Ruin Kerala Coffee Planters' Cuppa

The coffee blossoms are falling off. Harvested coffee cannot be dried due to a lack of sunlight.

Coffee bean price has fallen from Rs 12,600 a quintal in June to Rs 11,400 by January 12.

Thiruvananthapuram:

For a small-scale planter like Rukmini RV of Kerala's Wayanad district, rain in January - the coffee harvest season - can be damaging. It either spoils the carefully cultivated beans completely or drastically affects its aromatic quality. Needless to say, this year's 2,312% variation in rainfall, according to the met department, in the first two weeks of the month has been simply disastrous - and not just for cultivators.

"The coffee blossoms are falling off. Our harvested coffee is in the drying yard. Due to a lack of sunlight, we can't dry it. The gist: It's a total loss. All planters in Wayanad are facing the same problem. Not only me," Ms Rukmini moans.

Kerala Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar agreed that the January rains had been a cause of huge concern to the state. "In my life - and I am in my 50s - I have not seen such rain in Kerala during January. This is linked to climate change," Mr Kumar told NDTV.

The cultivators' challenge is aggravated due to other reasons, too, which cumulatively have led the market price for coffee beans to decline from Rs 12,600 per quintal in June 2020 to Rs 11,400 by January 12. This has left the cultivators with no margins. In any case, they say, this hardly is an exception.

"If we compare it to 10 years' (average), the coffee price is almost the same or even lower but the cost of production is three times higher," says Ms Rukmini, who is also an advocate.

While Kerala is India's second-largest coffee producer after Karnataka, competition is stiff internationally. "A farmer from Kalpetta in Wayanad needs to compete with produce from Vietnam, Indonesia, and Columbia. We need to ensure maximum cultivation in each available (piece of) land. But it is becoming difficult to even survive for many (of us)," she says.

Interventions like subsidies, the planters say, are not sufficient to make coffee an economically viable crop.

"Our income is much less than the production cost. We can't continue like this," says advocate Vasan EK, another cultivator.

The state government admits the problem is real. To tide over market vagaries, it is set to launch Kerala's own brands based on the region of production.

"We are in the process of creating our own brands - Malabar Coffee, Wayanad Coffee. We are trying to make a farmers' producer organisation. We will sell coffee directly from farmers. We will give all support for machinery to process the beans into powder," Agriculture Minister Kumar says.