NAMAKKAL: Farmers atop Kolli Hills say they no longer have the motivation to continue with coffee cultivation. They listed several issues including water scarcity, lack of pest and nutrient management strategy, labour issues, poor returns and lack of storage facilities. But the area under cultivation, according to data made available by the horticulture department, has been on the rise.
R Varadharajan, a 60-year-old farmer who had planted coffee in his 25-acre land five years ago, has now shifted to pepper cultivation.
"Finding skilled labourers is the main problem. Coffee cultivation involves several tasks such as sowing seeds, plucking coffee beans, and drying and cleaning them. As we could not find labourers for these jobs, many farmers like me have quit coffee cultivation. The market returns are another problem. We used to get Rs 80-120 per kg in the past, and it has increased to Rs 250 over the last five years. At this rate, it is impossible to recover costs."
Further, farmers said they could not sell in the open market directly. Middlemen fix the price and they have to abide by it, they complained.
M Kuppusamy, a farmer, said there was no infrastructure atop the hills. "There are no storage facilities, no coffee drying machine, or a pulping yard. If the government comes forward to establish the facilities, more farmers might show interest in taking up coffee cultivation," he said and requested the government to provide marketing and financial support.
"The agriculture and horticulture departments are making efforts to bring lands atop the hills under organic farming. However, they struggle to maintain the standard due to a lack of officials in the departments. For instance, in Namakkal district, the seed certification officials are additionally managing the organic farming wing too," the farmer asked.
S Ramesh, senior liaison officer of the Coffee Board, Yercaud and Kolli Hills, said, "Currently, we do not provide any subsidy to farmers. We have sent a proposal to the Board for establishing a drying yard, a pulping machine and storage facilities. We expect to get the approval before the end of this year."
K Ganesan, deputy director of the horticulture department, said, "In the past, tribal development schemes, hill area development schemes and western ghat development schemes were introduced by the State and Central governments for coffee cultivators. But, there are no schemes now. We are unaware of future plans as it is a matter of government policy. If the coffee cultivators demand drip irrigation, we are ready to provide it depending on the groundwater level and borewell facilities."
Area coverage for coffee in Kolli hill (in Hectares)
2016 - 1147
2017 - 1436
2018 - 1594
2019 - 1936
2020 - 2151
Salem (Yercaud) - 7,000, Kodaikanal - 10,000, the Nilgiris - 8,300
Drip irrigation coverage by horticulture in Namakkal (in hectares)
2017-18 - 1438
2018-19 - 2165
2019-20 - 3698
2020-21 - 3186
2021-22 - 106 (till October)