COMMENTARY – Kerala floods to hit India’s coffee, spices and rubber output hard

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The devastating floods in Kerala have brought the state’s economy to a standstill, with tens of thousands of farmers clueless about their future, as rainwaters have destroyed yearlong plantations, hitting coffee, spices and rubber.

“Preliminary findings show that nearly 1,82,000 farmers are directly affected, and nearly 28,150 hectares of farm land are submerged in flood waters. The estimated loss of crops in revenue is expected to be around Rs 700 crore, but could go up,” Justin Mohan, director of Department of Agriculture Development and Farmer’s Welfare, said in a report.

The incessant rains have also caused serious damages in neighbouring states. In Karnataka, which accounts for over 70 percent of the coffee produced in the country, rain has damaged plantations in the producing regions of Kodagu and Chikmagaluru. The planters’ bodies estimate the 2018-19 coffee crop loss at 70-80 percent.

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Strong winds along with rains have also washed off the pepper spikes in both Kerala and Karnataka, negatively impacting pepper production. Top two spices produced in the country include pepper and cardamom, both from the flood-hit state.

Over 4,000 tonnes of pepper is produced in Kerala and sold domestically. Almost 90 per cent of this produce is gone. Prices of all spices from Kerala have gone up by up to 100 per cent in the past few days.

The unprecedented natural calamity has left the rubber farmers crying too. The disaster has come at a time when they are already reeling under the impact of low prices of rubber and rise in cost of inputs.

Rubber output in India, the world’s sixth-biggest producer and second-largest consumer, is likely to fall 13.5 per cent to 6,00,000 tonnes in 2018-19 from a year ago.

Rubber plantations in the rubber belts of Kottayam, Malappuram and Wynad districts have suffered heavy damages in the floods. Initial estimates show that 500 acres of rubber plantations were lost in floods and landslides.

Kerala contributes about 92% of rubber production in India and as such the loss of tapping days in Kerala as a result of floods could lead to an overall fall in India’s production this year.

Natural rubber production in India has already hit a six-year low of 126,000 tonnes in the first quarter of the 2018-19 financial year, according to Rubber Board figures.

Floods in the state this month have killed nearly 400 people caused more than $3 billion in damage, according to the state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The region has had 40% more monsoon rain than normal, according to the India Meteorological Department. Showers between Aug. 1 and Aug. 19 were 164% higher than average, it said.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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