India coffee harvest may decline due to heavy rain, pest attacks
Coffee production in India, which supplies 4.5% of world exports, will probably decline in the coming year because of damage from heavy rains and pests.
The harvest starting in October may fall 15% from the 300,300 metric tons forecast last month by India's Coffee Board, said Bose Mandanna, director of Karnataka Coffee Brokers Pvt. The crop totaled 274,000 tons in the current year.
Lower Indian production may extend six-year highs in prices of bitter-tasting Robusta beans, which are used in instant coffee by manufacturers such as Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle SA. Prices have gained because drought reduced supply from Vietnam, the biggest grower of the variety, and inventories halved this year on London's Euronext.
The price of Robusta coffee for November delivery increased 52% in the past year to $1,535 a ton on Monday in London. That outperformed a 10.2% gain for milder-tasting Arabica beans used for specialty coffees.
‘‘We're praying that the damage doesn't turn out to be as bad as it looks,'' said Mandanna, former vice chairman of the Coffee Board and owner of a 60-acre plantation in Karnataka, India's biggest coffee-growing state. A smaller harvest ‘‘will certainly reflect in prices.''
Some coffee-growing areas in Karnataka have received twice the amount of rain needed by the Robusta crop, which accounts for two-thirds of India's production, Mandanna said on Monday. Insect attacks may lower production of Arabica beans by as much as 25%, he said.
It is hurricane in the coffee cup, with growers questioning the recently truncated constitution of the Coffee Board whose first meeting had to be cancelled, giving hints that the Centre may have to undertake another reconstitution exercise. The first meeting of the partially constituted board could not be held on Thursday for lack of quorum, and was cancelled indefinitely.
Intense political lobbying for the various grower posts was said to be the reason for partial constitution of the board and the delay in notifying it. Political pressure had not been confined to just formation of commodity boards. In the case of both the Coffee and Rubber boards, there were moves earlier to hoist political leaders at the helm of affairs, which had been strongly opposed from various sections of the industry, and the growers forcing the Centre to post bureaucrats.
While growers from Tamil Nadu and Kerala found no representation in the 14-member board, when it has regularly been 32, even those from Karnataka which accounts for two-third of the total coffee production are crying foul and alleging that even their representation has not been "just and proper".
Of the usual 10-member grower representation on the board, just five, all from Karnataka, were filled- three large growers, with holdings of more than 10 hectares, and two small growers.
Even here, there was no pattern for representation of different coffee-growing areas and four of them were from one area and three were relatives of a leading politician, said some of the growers.
A leading coffee grower here said that though Kerala had the largest number of small coffee growers of over 75,000, no grower had been nominated to the board.
While usually seven small growers got representation, this time only two had been nominated to the board. When exports account for nearly 80% of the production, it was an irony that no exporter had found a place on the board, he added.
Of the 20-plus non-official postings, only seven had been filled, which included representations from the coffee-growing states. A leading coffee grower on the board told FE that with several members not attending the first board meeting, it had to be cancelled. It was unlikely that the present board would meet and the Centre would have to take some harsh steps, he said.
As it had already received representations against the present constitution, there was the possibility of the Centre either cancelling the present notification and issuing a fresh one, which could be a full body, or taking steps to fill the vacancies.
According to the latest figures available, based on post-blossom forecast, the total production during the current year was expected to be around 3 lakh tonne, higher than last year's 2.74 lakh tonne.