Coonoor (Tamil Nadu), S Sep 27 (IANS) Declining production due to climatic variation and severe labour shortage caused by migration are haunting commodity planters of south India. The two-day annual conference of planters opens here Friday.
"Erratic climate due to global warming and local factors is impacting tea production, and labour shortage due to migration and social factors is increasing cost of production," a spokesman for south Indian planters said Thursday.
Though coffee, rubber and spices (cardamom and pepper) plantations are not so much affected by adverse weather conditions, their overall production costs have been rising due to wage increase, labour shortage and higher cost of processing and logistics.
"Tea production has been stagnating across the country over the last four consecutive years due to delayed monsoon, prolonged dry spells and absence of summer showers for blossoming," United Planters' Association of South India (Upasi) commodities head R. Sanjith told IANS here.
As a result, all-India tea production for first seven months (Jan-July) declined 4.2 percent to 471 million kg from 492 million kg in like period year ago (2011).
"The decline was more in north India (4.4 percent) to 333 million kg from 348 million kg as against 3.8 percent in south India to 138 million kg from 144 million kg year ago," Sanjith pointed out.
Similarly, tea production in Kenya declined 11 percent to 183 million kg same period from 205 million kg year ago and 3.9 percent in Sri Lanka to 188 million kg from 196 million kg a year ago.
China, however, bucked the trend and posted a record production of 1,134 million kg from January to July as against 919 million kg, registering a whopping 23.4 percent year-on-year (YoY) growth.
"China's production was higher on account of well distributed rain in growing regions, while in India production gain was confined to the northern region. The production trends during the first half of 2012 indicate that most of the tea growing regions were experiencing adverse weather pattern, resulting in lesser crop," Sanjith said.
A study by UPASI and the Tea Research Foundation (TRF) revealed drastic reduction in the labour force in the plantation regions.
"The labour strength in tea plantation has reduced, varying from 21.4 percent in Nilgiris (blue mountains) in Tamil Nadu to 56.2 percent in central Travancore in Kerala from what it was over a decade ago," Sanjith said citing the study findings.
Incidentally, the central government's flagship programme - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) - has been luring away labour from the plantation sector, resulting in severe shortage during crop harvesting.
"We have voiced our reservations on the much acclaimed NREGA scheme in the context of labour shortage and difficulties in carrying out plantation operations to the parliamentary standing committee on commerce July 7 here," Sanjith recalled.
Of the 2.4 million labourers involved in commodity plantations across the country, 1.35 million (57.3 percent) of them are from the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Similarly, of the 1.6 million growers across the country, 1.27 million (79.1 percent) are in south India.
Of the 1.72 million hectares area under plantation crops in the country, south India accounts for 1.1 million hectares area (64.2 percent).
About 800 planters, growers, curers, roasters, exporters and other stakeholders, including officials will participate in the 119th annual conference.
Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M. Scindia will preside over the conference, where chairmen of respective commodity boards or their deputies and other officials will be present.