New Delhi: Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman Monday assured stakeholders in the coffee plantation sector of addressing their concerns on priority.
"This is the first meeting with coffee stakeholders after the new government was formed (in May) and held under the specific instructions of the prime minister to review the working of all commodities, including coffee, tea, rubber, spices and marine products," Sitaraman told reporters after a half-day brain-storming session in Bangalore.
Among the concerns the ministry will address are finding a solution to the white-stem borer pest affecting Arabica plantations, technology transfer to enable small growers buy indigenous machinery to increase productivity and overcome labour shortage, compensation by state-run insurance firms for crop damage due to adverse weather, amendment to section 7B of the Income Tax Act on exports, regularisation of forest lands where coffee is grown in Karnataka and promotion of coffee to boost domestic consumption and increase exports.
"A small group of experts will be formed to study the white stem borer disease affecting Arabica productivity and come up with suggestions on how to control it (pest) before next crop season. We will involve state-run and private research institutions to find a solution as the disease is unique to India and has been damaging the crop over the last 100 years," Sitharaman said.
The dreaded pest, which attacks only in India among the world's 10 coffee-producing countries, is a brown coloured beetle that damages coffee plants and causes up to 40 percent yield loss.
Though the state-run Coffee Board has estimated 344,750 tonnes of production for this fiscal (2014-15), the target is unlikely to be met due to 50 percent damage to plantations in the coffee-growing regions of Karnataka in the rich bio-diverse Western Ghats.
Of the total output the board has projected a quarter ago, Robusta variety is estimated to be 239,250 tonnes and Arabica 105,500 tonnes for the ensuing crop year.
As imported machinery is expensive and only large growers and corporates can afford to buy, the ministry will facilitate technology transfer in consultation with other ministries to manufacture machines indigenously for small growers to increase productivity through increasing mechanisation and meet the labour shortage they face for harvesting and processing coffee beans.
"We will soon consult ministries concerned to give incentives to produce machinery in the country for small growers and address the manpower shortage they are faced with due to migration of labour and non-availability of local workforce," Sitharaman noted.
The ministry will soon convene a meeting of the coffee board and growers with insurance firms to amend terms and conditions for giving compensation on crops damaged by adverse weather conditions.
"Though growers pay huge premium to insure their crop against vagaries of weather but do not get compensated, I have directed my officials and the coffee board to hold a meeting with insurance firms and planters' representatives to ensure they (growers) get benefited from the scheme with fair terms and conditions," Sitharaman asserted.