Kerala is regarded as Plantation state of India which shares nearly 45 percentage of Plantation crops cultivated in India. Plantation crops also occupy 34 percentage of total cropped area of the State. The sector has been weighed down for too long due to various strains like high cost of production, unrealistic taxation laws, high workforce wage and now, impacts of Climate change has been added to this list.
The state experienced drought conditions in 2015 and 2016 with minus 26 percentage and minus 34 percentage respectively. But suddenly this year (2018), Kerala experienced excess rainfall of 41 percentage that too in less than a week in august. This clearly shows that kerala is a victim of both the extremes of weather within a span five year cycle. Any change in annual rainfall and its distribution, changes in solar radiation and temperature, changes in atmospheric carbon level would usher to fluctuations in production of Plantation crops. Also it expose the crops to high risk of pest and disease attacks.
kerala is a victim of both the extremes of weather within a span five year cycle.
Major crops affected due to recent floods are coffee, tea, cardamom, pepper and arecanut. Kerala Planters Association has estimated crop loss over Rs. 2000 crore in the preliminary estimates. Kerala accounts for 90 percentage of total domestic rubber production. Floods caused shoot rot disease in immature Plantations and defoliation of leaves around Travancore areas. Even before the floods, continuous rain since June reduced the number of tapping days. Similarly cardamom crop have been severely affected in Kudalur region and rough estimates state that at least 30 percentage of cardamom crops need to be replanted. Tea Plantations are worst hit due to landslides. The fungal disease like black rot and leaf rot are widely prevalent across other Plantation crops due to high moisture level.
The plight of Plantation workers shall not be ignored here. By losing their assets, daily wages, other sources of income and milch animals – they were worst hit to the recent floods. The recovery of Plantation sector on the aftermath of floods should not stop with rehabilitation and rebuilding. It should be planned for future with disaster preparedness and climate resilience. The sector contributes nearly 33 percentage of agricultural GDP to the state, so long term reconstruction in socio-economic perspective is imperative.
First, state must revive Plantation sector from archaic and outdated colonial laws, the recent announcement on this June month by Kerala Government to do away with Plantation tax based on recommendations of Justice Krishna Nair committee is a welcome move. Second, as damages by climate change is imminent, focus should be turned towards per plant productivity by either encouraging value addition or developing improved resistant cultivars. Disregarding Gadgil committee and other subsequent committees to protect Western Ghats and its sustainable usage is also regarded as a reason for floods. So third step is to adopt sustainable management of Plantation farming by Ecotourism, Integrated farming with new crops like cashew, pepper, cocoa, oil palms has to be encouraged. This would increase biodiversity and when compared to the present mono-cropped Plantations, it restores soil fertility, prevents soil erosion and landslides by holding soil structure intact below ground.
Disregarding Gadgil committee and other subsequent committees to protect Western Ghats and its sustainable usage is also regarded as a reason for floods.
Fourth, Plantation sector is a major exchequer to Kerala over domestic and international exports, yet there is no separate Plantation department to monitor and coordinate the sector. Setting up of separate Department for Plantation sector will caters to the job of long term reconstruction by bringing coordination of different stakeholders. And Finally, about 3.5 lakh workers are dependent on Plantation sector for employment, directly and indirectly. State must try to include all workers under Employees State Insurance Corporation to endure any future externalities. It should also take into account the migrant workers of Tamil Nadu and Northeast by providing them social security benefits.
The challenges does not stop with kerala, it’s a harsh wake up call to entire Plantation sector of India. It is the right time to retrospect the present farm practices and soon synchronise it with sustainable climate resilience practices. The Future and Nature would not spare us if we don’t try to learn from Kerala.
(This article was originally published as ‘Letter from the Editor‘ in ‘The Agraria’ e-Magazine. You can Subscribe it here)
Featured Image : Credits ‘The Hindu’