A structural shift in Indian coffee production from arabica to robusta variety is likely to dent the image of Indian coffee in the global market, officials of United Planters Association of South India (UPASI) have said. Arabica beans are believed to have smoother taste with less acidity, richer flavour and command a premium over the robusta variety, which is mostly used as filler in lower-grade coffee blends. During 2013-14, India produced 3, 04,500 tonne of coffee, of which only 1,02,200 tonne was arabica variety.
Production of arabica variety has fallen drastically in India, with area under its cultivation declining from around 73 % in 1950-51 to 49.5 % in 2012-13, while production fell from 82% in the same year to 33.6% in 2013-14, Vijayan Rajes, president of UPASI, told FE. “The rapid pace at which arabica is being converted will continue unless some decisive intervention is done. This is important since the traditional arabica coffee cultivation practises had ensured protection of biodiversity and ecosystem in the ecologically sensitive Western and Eastern Ghats, which needs to be reinstated through adequate incentives,” he added.
Arabica is a fragile crop with a delicate flavour while robusta is robust. Yield is also lower when compared to robusta. Diseases like white stem borer (WSB) and increasing cost of production have forced farmers to shift to robusta,” Rajes said. WSB attack is so severe that many estates have resorted to uprooting of arabica trees to stop its spread. The sever incidence of WSB is due to dry weather and high temperature in the summer. Due to this, plant population has come down and it would take 5-6 years for the coffee grower to bring the affected estate back to shape, he added. Arabica is also a labour-intensive crop.
UPASI has petitioned the commerce ministry to provide incentive of R10 per arabica plant to support its farming.