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Indian coffee growers suffering labour headache

By Ankush Chibber , 28-Sep-2012
Last updated on 28-Sep-2012 at 07:48 GMT

Indian coffee growers suffering labour headache

India’s coffee industry is under severe stress due a shortage of skilled labour and must invest heavily in expanding its capabilities, a major industry association has said.

According to the Karnataka Planters’ Association (KPA), the shortage and high cost of labour has put constraints on its plans to make coffee growing one of food-processing’s marquee sectors.

Labour issues growing

Karnataka accounts for some 70% of the country’s coffee production, but it requires the investment of roughly US$200mn over the next five years to mechanise the sector, according to the KPA.

“We are looking at severe labour shortage in the long-term,” said Marvin Rodrigues, the association’s chairman, pointing to some government employment schemes and the growing trend by young rural workers to migrate to the cities.

The labour problem is also acute in the two other plantation states in South India, a recent study found. The report, by the Tea Research Foundation and the United Planters’ Association of Southern India, found thousands of plantation labourers have been opting to work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme due to higher wages.

“The labour strength in tea plantation has reduced, varying from 21.4% in Nilgiris and 30% in Annamalais in Tamil Nadu to 56.2% in central Travancore in Kerala, from what it was over a decade ago,” the study remarked about the two main plantation regions. 

Apart from the shortage of labour, Rodrigues also talked of the rising cost of fertilisers and pollution control measures, driven by export needs as major constraints.

Mechanisation a must

“For mechanisation, we have recommended to the Coffee Board and the Ministry of Commerce for a US$60mn subsidy package in the Twelfth Five-year Plan for the coffee sector,” he said. 

“Mechanisation of certain coffee estate operations is imperative considering the scarcity of labour prevailing in the plantations,” he added. 

Among the plans for mechanisation is the need for new equipment like generators and transformers, as well as specialised equipment that will help make up for the worker shortage and boost production.

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