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May 5, 2024

Unpaid Dues Stir Discontent Among Araku Coffee Planters, Looming as Electoral Issue

Discontent among coffee planters in the picturesque Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh has come to the fore as unpaid dues from the government remain unresolved, potentially shaping up as a significant electoral issue in the region’s Lok Sabha constituency.

Araku, nestled at a height of 1000 meters in the Eastern Ghats, is renowned for its distinctively flavored coffee beans, gaining both domestic and international recognition. Initially started as an experiment in the early 2000s, coffee cultivation now spans across 2.30 lakh acres, yielding over 15,000 tons annually.

Despite the success, a cloud of frustration hangs over the region as government promises remain unfulfilled. The YSR Congress, eyeing a hat-trick in the Araku (ST) Lok Sabha segment, faces stiff competition from the NDA, which is determined to snatch the seat from the ruling party.

In the 2019 elections, the YSRCP secured victory with a significant margin, but this time, the political landscape is changing. The ruling party has fielded Chetti Tanuja Rani, a doctor, while the NDA has brought forth former MP Kothaplalli Geetha, who switched from YSRCP to BJP.

The CPI (M), as part of the INDI alliance, has also thrown its hat into the ring, complicating the electoral dynamics further. With multiple contenders vying for the seat, the unresolved grievances of coffee planters have become a focal point of the campaign.

The discontent stems from unpaid dues totaling over Rs 60 crore owed to more than 58,000 farmers across 10 mandals under the Araku Lok Sabha segment. According to Gemmili China Babu, a local planter and sarpanch of Sunkarametta village, the plantation was earlier supported under MGNREGA, but the central government ceased its support, leaving farmers in a lurch.

Despite assurances and proposals sent by the state government to reverse the decision, there has been no response. Officials acknowledge the pending dues but cite the removal of coffee plantation from MGNREGA as the reason for non-payment.

While the ITDA and the state government have provided support in terms of free saplings and equipment, the real issue lies in providing marketing opportunities to farmers. Many are forced to sell their produce at lower prices to middlemen, denting their earnings.

Ram Kumar Varma, Founder and CEO of Native Araku Coffee, notes the significance of marketing avenues for the farmers. His brand, sold online and at various outlets including eight airports across India, sources about 100 tonnes of coffee beans from Araku farmers. Varma emphasizes the need for empowering farmers with better marketing channels to ensure fair returns for their produce.

As the election campaign heats up, candidates like Appala Narsa are amplifying the voices of discontented planters. The unresolved dues, combined with broader issues of agricultural support and marketing, have become pivotal topics in the political discourse of Araku.

In the lush green valleys of Araku, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the scent of the earth, the discontent of farmers serves as a reminder of the challenges they face. For these growers, the upcoming elections represent not just a political contest but a crucial opportunity to address their grievances and secure their livelihoods.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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