UPASI seeks Centre’s support to tide over the lockdown crisis

United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI), the apex body of planters in south India, gave a representation to the Union government and commodity boards for immediate support to tide over the crisis caused by the lockdown imposed to control spread of COVID-19.

In  a report prepared by UPASI, the association said that the lockdown has led to disruptions in the usual plantation activities in spices and beverages sector. It has also led to cancellation or postponement of trade and restrictions in the movement of plantation commodities meant for exports to the ports and have resulted in severe cash flow issues.

UPASI reports that anticipated crop loss in the south Indian tea industry will be around 23 million kg, with an estimated value loss of around Rs 314 crores.

“Though the lockdown in tea plantations in south India was partially lifted recently, the operations in Kerala started almost a week after Tamil Nadu. Anticipated crop loss is relatively high, as April-May is usually the peak cropping period in the region. Value of tea in stock due to closure of marketing channels is estimated at Rs 168 crores, which includes stock meant for export markets,” AL RM Nagappan, president of UPASI said. “If the tender shoots are not harvested within this period, tea fields will overgrow and become unsuitable for manufacture of quality tea,” he added.

“Further, factory machinery has to be cleaned to remove the rust and other contaminants that have accumulated during the lockdown period before starting the regular manufacturing process. The projected cost required for restarting operations in the field and factories would be around Rs 60.75 crore,” he added.

The UPASI report on the spices sector says that harvest of cardamom has been impacted due to non-availability of manpower. Cardamom harvest is usually carried out by migrant workers from Tamil Nadu and since the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border being sealed they are not available for crop picking.

Stoppage of auctions since mid-March has further caused accumulation of stock leading to cash flow issues to growers and making it difficult to make their weekly payments. Trading activity in cardamom has virtually stopped. No traders are coming forward to buy cardamom from growers on private sale basis and auctions have totally stopped for now, the report adds.

Harvesting of pepper has been severely impacted due to non-availability of workers as migrants have gone back to their villages and are not available for crop picking. Harvesting machines, which usually comes from Tamil Nadu, has left from the pepper growing regions due to lockdown, resulting in around 30-40% of the pepper crop yet to be plucked and the estimated loss on account of this could be around Rs 510 crores.

UPASI has requested the government to start cardamom auctions and provide interest subvention of 3 per cent on all loans taken by spice growers. The organisation has also called for to reschedule payment on all crop loans, term loans & interest falling due between 15 March to 30 June by six months.

Shekhar Ghosh is a communications consultant and and former journalist, who has edited and written for publications such as like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today and Outlook.

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