To re-build itself, plantation sector seeks bank funds
Kerala's ailing plantation sector is seeking finance from banks and other financial institutions at low interest rates to re-invent itself and to improve production.
The waiving of agriculture income tax and plantations taxes by the Kerala Government will be a boost to the crisis-ridden sector and there is a need to instil investor confidence in the business, said Thomas Jacob, Chairman, Association of Planters of Kerala (APK).
No re-plantation activity has happened since 2012-13, even as issues of high cost of production, low productivity coupled with price realisation below the cost of production, and rising labour cost have affected investor-confidence. Nobody has come forward to invest in the sector though plantations are considered an agriculture activity, he said.
The need of the hour is to implement a broad policy on plantations without changing the nature of land. “We can carry out cultivation of fruit trees, bamboo, indigenous trees of timber value as inter-crop on a PPP model, multi-crop or standalone crop without changing the basic structure of plantations,” Jacob told reporters on the eve of the 79th annual general meeting.
The current role of plantations is generally as a bulk commodity producer. By encouraging value-addition through cluster development, returns to the grower and employment opportunity can be substantially increased. He also suggested introducing a minimum support price for plantation crops as per the formula recommended by the M S Swaminathan Commission.
He said that the unprecedented rain and floods have taken a severe toll on the sector and the estimated loss across the four major crops is put at ₹3,070.85 crore.
According to C Vinayaraghavan, immediate past chairman, of APK, the plantation industry can play a key role in rebuilding Kerala, especially the Western Ghats. The sector can create environmentally sustainable, economically viable, employment generating agro industry.
B P Kariappa, Vice-Chairman, APK, urged the government to extend support through the climate change mitigation fund for soil and water conservation as also biodiversity strengthening.