The plantation sector is back in focus with the Union government increasing its grants for research to help revive the sector and make its products internationally more competitive.
Following the government initiative, the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), which was allotted Rs5 crore as a one-time grant in the 2008 Union Budget to establish a national centre for plantation economy, has decided to focus on the impact of climate change on the sector and its revival through optimum use of land.
Revival drive: A coffee plantation on the outskirts of Bangalore. CDS’ studies on plantation crops such as spices, tea, coffee and coconut would help it undertake further research to drive government policy decisions.
K. Narayanan Nair, director of the Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala–based institute, said CDS’ experience in studies on plantation crops such as spices, tea, coffee and coconut would help it undertake further research to drive the government’s policy decisions.
This is the first time such an allocation has been made for plantation-specific studies, Nair said. CDS proposes to involve government trade promotion bodies—the spices, tea, coffee, rubber and tobacco boards—and scientific research institutes, besides the Indian Institute of Plantation Management in Bangalore and the Institute of Central Agricultural Research in the studies, he added.
Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, who recently held discussions with the faculty at CDS, said a meeting of the heads of the various commodity boards and their research organizations will be held at the centre in early May, after which the framework for research will be formulated.
On climate changes, Ramesh pointed out to the extended dry spell in the coffee sector, which has gone up to 180 days from 150 days earlier.
He added that in the wake of a series of free-trade agreements proposed with several commodity-growing countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, there is a need to improve India’s competitiveness.
“No longer is the sector insulated. Strategies will have to be designed based on what is happening in the sector in other countries. It will only be insightful to have inter-country comparisons. These researches will help in having long-term strategies and interventions, which should not be like the present crisis-driven ones,” Ramesh said.
Since plantation commodities?are?spread?across?India and the government is embarking on a Rs7,000 crore programme for replantation and rejuvenation of the sector, there will have to be a networking of the various institutions. Research would have to look at livelihood security and ensure income security of the more than six million people depending on the sector, he added.
CDS’ Nair said crops from the plantation sector account for about 5% of the net sown area, contribute to about 10% of the income from agriculture and about 13% of the agricultural exports. The estate sector alone is estimated to provide about 2.5 million days of employment.
Land use is an important issue before the sector since most of the crops are cultivated in ecologically fragile areas and research should look at the sustenance of plantation agriculture for the long-term development of such regions.
The broad framework of the programme will study the organization of production, its marketing, processing, demand and prices, and compare these with competing countries. Analysis will be carried out across size groups of land holdings, including large plantations and across regions.