In Coffee Land, 8000 acres estate lost

Bengaluru: Scores of coffee planters will have to start from scratch after unprecedented rains, coupled with massive landslides ruined their coffee estates and farms. An estimated 8,000 acres of coffee estate have been washed away by rains that lashed Kodagu district for over 15 days without  a break. Seeing the damage caused to coffee plantations, it may take at least a decade for them to recover from the economic blow.

The rich coffee planters are now reduced to penury and are left with nothing after they fled their estates leaving everything behind. A number of estate owners are now taking shelter at relief centres opened by the district administration to provide them food, shelter and medical aid. The future looks bleak especially for small land holders with land ranging in size from 5-10 acres.

"According to our estimate, 7,000 to 8,000 acres of coffee plantations have gone missing. The rain has swept away coffee plants-the source of income for a number of planters. The estates replete with greenery have now turned into barren land. There is no trace of their estate let alone the coffee plants. Only the red soil can be seen everywhere", Dr Boppanda M. Bopaiah, president, Coorg Planters' Association (CPA), told Deccan Chronicle.

According to him, Kodagu district had never experienced such a big disaster. The most affected places are Madikeri and Somwarpet taluks. As many as eight villages in Madikeri taluk and two to three villages were completely ravaged in the rains followed by landslides. Most planters are unable to locate their estates as landslides have brought down everything. Their houses are still under layers of mud with no chance of retrieving anything. Land documents and important papers were either damaged or washed away in the rains.

Citing an example, Dr Bopaiah said a 60 acre coffee estate of one of the members of the association was destroyed in the landslides and he has lost his means of livelihood, coffee plants, house, vehicles and everything else. The CPA, which has around 1,000 members, is now planning to raise funds to help fellow estate owners.

Unlike neighbouring Chikkamagaluru district, most coffee estate owners here are small land holders with 10 acres or less land. Hundreds of bags of coffee seeds and pepper worth lakhs of rupees have been washed away. Because of this year's devastation, coffee production in Kodagu may go down by at least 50 per cent next year and so will pepper production. It will take lakhs of rupees to do land filling and take up fresh planting of coffee plants, he added.

Mr Bottanagadu M Raju, member, Coffee Board and resident of Virajpet town, said the entire district was divided into three blocks-Western Block, Mid Block and Eastern Block and all of them fall in the Western Ghats range. While 80-90 per cent of coffee plants are damaged in the Western Block,  60-65 per cent are damaged in the Mid Block and 50-55 per cent in the Eastern Block.

Each coffee plant of Arabica variety needs 5 years to bear fruits and it is more in the case of the Robusta variety. Arabica coffee is harvested in December and Robusta in February. This year, the coffee growers were expecting a bumper crop due to ‘blossom showers’ during February-March, after three years of meagre rains but their hopes have been dashed with the crop damage more in south Kodagu. 

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