Decision to delist from national scheme: Centre’s coffee plantation call leaves farmers in lurch
Hyderabad: A recent decision of the Central government to delist coffee plantation work from permissible activities under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGP) scheme has left more than one lakh tribal farmers in forest areas of Visakhapatnam in the lurch.
The Union ministry of rural development conveyed to the Andhra Pradesh government in September, stating that the MGNREGP would no more be applicable to works taken up in the coffee plantations in the tribal areas of Viskakhapatnam, where the famed ’Araku coffee’ is produced.
“The decision was taken following a recommendation made by the Coffee Board of India in April 2020 itself. Their contention is that coffee plantation is not a perennial crop. Secondly, coffee is also a commercial crop. Hence, it cannot come under MGNREGP,” Andhra Pradesh commissioner of panchayat raj and rural development M Girija Shankar said.
He said the state government had already written twice to the Union ministry to reconsider its decision. “Our chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, too, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and our MPs, too, represented the matter with the Centre, but we fail to understand why the Centre is refusing to concede to our request,” Shankar said.
The Andhra Pradesh government has been promoting coffee plantation under MGNREGP since 2009-10, as an area specific work in the Scheduled V areas (tribal pockets) of the Eastern Ghats in Visakhapatnam.
“Only wage component tasks such as pitting, planting and intercultural operations, are taken up under MGNREGP and the material component is being met by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) and the Coffee Board. Funds are directly paid to the bank accounts of the beneficiary ,” the commissioner said, adding that the total wage component under the project was around ₹32,000 per acre.
According to Dr Salijamala Venkateswar, project officer of ITDA, Paderu, the Centre had permitted coffee plantation works in Visakhapatnam as a special project. Normally, MGNREGP doesn’t cover agriculture labour, but covers manual labour under horticulture, sericulture, plantation and farm forestry.
“It was basically aimed at preventing the tribal people from undertaking shifting cultivation that results in destruction of forest areas and providing them a sustained livelihood. Since they have very small landholding – from half acre to a maximum of two acres, payment of wages under the MGNREGP would go a long way to improve their living standards,” Venkateshwar said.
He said under this programme, each tribal farmer was getting on an average of ₹245 per day and on an average, there were 81 person days during a year. “On an average, each tribal used to get ₹20-25,000 per year towards wages under the project. Now, they are deprived of the same,” he said.
According to the ITDA official, the Coffee Board took the decision to delist the Araku coffee plantation works from MGNREGP, as it was under pressure from other coffee-growing states like Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to include their coffee plantations, too, under the project.
“However, there is a fundamental difference between Andhra Pradesh coffee growers and other states. In our state, it is grown exclusively by tribals for their livelihood, whereas in other states, they are grown in coffee estates in lakhs of acres,” Venkateshwar said.
The state government represented to the Centre that as coffee plantations in Paderu and Araku areas provide sustainable income resources to primitive tribal households, their activity may be permitted under MGNREGP. “We pointed out that when the project is applicable for rubber plantations in Kerala, it could be applied to coffee plantations in Araku as well,” Shankar said.
As per the MGNREGP guidelines, any plant that is perennial in nature and suitable to the agro-climatic conditions can be brought under the scheme. “Coffee plantation too was taken up as an area specific work in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district where the altitude and climatic conditions favours it,” he said.
Stating that the coffee plantation was a game changer in the tribal areas, the commissioner said delisting it from MGNREGP would adversely impact the livelihood of vulnerable tribals. “Since, as per Land Transfer Regulation Act 1 of 1970, the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals is banned, there is no scope for coffee cultivation by non-tribals in this area,” he said.