Heady brew of a better coffee

Guwahati: The Rs 4-crore coffee sector in the Northeast is trying to carve out its own identity, despite constraints.
Good price at auctions in Banglaore and an increased awareness among growers about quality and market support by the Coffee Board raise hope for the future of the sector. “The problem with coffee is that it is location specific. Wherever coffee is grown in the Northeast we will continue to provide all support to the growers,” a Coffee Board source in Guwahati said.
The production has been rising from 80 tonnes in 2008-09 and is expected to touch 220 tonnes in 2012-13. The allocation for the Northeast in the eleventh plan was Rs 20 crore and authorities have requested for a substantial increase in the twelfth plan. There is a plan to modernise coffee-curing work at Lokhra in Guwahati.
Coffee in the region is grown mainly in Mizoram, Jampui hills in Tripura, Dima Hasao in Assam and Garo hills in Meghalaya.
The total planted area of coffee in the Northeast is 5,545.63 hectares while the bearing area is 739.02 hectares.
The number of holdings is 7,083.
The objective behind starting coffee cultivation in the region — apart from promoting the beverage — is to introduce suitable commercial and eco-friendly activities among the indigenous community; it is expected to wean away the local inhabitants from the hazardous practice of jhum/shifting cultivation and settle them in an economic activity to improve their socio-economic status.
The Northeast-specific market support scheme of the Coffee Board has helped it substantially.
“Had it not been for the market support scheme, the sector would not have existed in the region. The scheme has helped the coffee growers to get the returns for their produce without any hardship,” the source said.
The scheme comprises procurement of coffee, transportation of coffee to collection centre, release of initial payment, curing, packing and storage, despatch to Bangalore, auction and release of funds payment.
The board provided Rs 12 per kg as transportation subsidy to growers, which is likely to increase in the next plan, as the costs have gone up.
The subsidy helps in transporting the coffee from the farms to the nearest office and then to the curing work factory where it is processed and then to the auctions in Bangalore. Money is disbursed to the accounts of the growers online.
The working group on the plantations sector, constituted by the Planning Commission for the twelfth plan has stated that support will also be extended towards the activities like quality improvement, marketing, capacity building among the tribal growers in the region.
A report on Quality Awareness programme conducted in Lunglei Zone published in the February issue of the Indian Coffee magazine said the quality upgrade programme for infrastructure development has been a success as there has been a considerable increase in the percentage of growers pooling parchment coffee.
It said, “In the past, coffee processed by growers of the region suffered greatly from poor quality due to improper processing, drying and handling. As a result, the coffees fetched low prices in the auctions.”
Coffee from the Northeast has fetched good prices at the Bangalore auctions conducted by the Indian Coffee Trade Association.
The Arabica cherry coffee fetched a price of Rs 162 per kg while the Arabica parchment fetched a price of Rs 200 per kg.
“We have received good feedback from the Bangalore auctions and they have told us that the quality is good and are receiving good prices,” the source said.
On the scope to sell Northeast coffee in the markets and brand it like tea, sources say the production base is too small to do it.
There could be a board meeting of Coffee Board in the Northeast, which is an indication of the region being taken seriously.
Sources said private traders had come to the region but it would not be of any great help as purchases would be selective.
Lack of concrete assurances for buying, prices being half of what was being realised through auctions and demand for transport subsidy were factors that would harm the cause, the sources added.


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