Slimy snails turn nightmare for coffee growers in Kodagu

With slimy African snails are crawling all over the coffee estates in Hundli, Bellaralli and Shanivarasanthe in Kodagu District, the coffee grower’s cup of woes is running over. Indresh Coovercolly examines.

While coffee growers in many parts of the district face crop loss due to wild elephant menace and borer disease, those in Hundli, Bellaralli and Shanivarasanthe are facing a bleak coffee harvest with African Snails feasting on coffee leaves and beans. “The infested area has been rising every year over the past three years since the pest has surfaced in the region,” Pradeep, a coffee grower in Ballarahalli, near Shanivarsanthe, the main infested region told the Hindu Business Line.

Since the African snail is a nocturnal pest, the management of the insect has become a big challenge, Pradeep said, adding that growers are being forced to spend on chemicals such as metaldehyde to kill the snails and bury them in the soil. “We expect our cultivation costs to go up by ₹10,000-15,000 per acre, as we have to spend not only on the chemicals but also on the additional labour. We have already spent Rs 2 lakh in dealing with this pest so far, this year,” said Pradeep, who is a medium-sized grower with about 40 acres. Further, the pest is affecting the replanting of coffee plants and pepper vines. “We are unable to establish pepper because of this pest,” he added.

"Thousands of African snails attack coffee estates during the monsoon and the ordeal has been on since last three years. Nobody has a clue as to from where the African snails come and what is the best solution to keep them away," said N NPhalaksha, a grower in Hundli. What’s more, these slimy, unwanted intruders have already destroyed over 500 hectares of coffee estates in Shanivarasanthe region alone.

If these snails are not destroyed, there is a fear of them spreading to nearby taluks, totally destroying the economy of the region of the coffee land. On one hand, the coffee growers have to manage the fluctuation in coffee prices and on the other, they have to face challenges like these every now and then. While 50 kgs of Arabica parchment coffee price was as high as Rs 9,300 only about a year ago, now, it has slumped to Rs 7,500.

The Central Coffee Research Institute, which had done a survey of the infested region, estimates the infected area at around 1,500 acres. “The pest had initially surfaced in North Coorg two years ago. It has now spread to even some estates in Hassan and Chikmagalur districts this year,” Y Raghuramulu, Director, CCRI is quoted telling the Hindu Business Line. Though many methodologies were tried to rid the plantations of these slimy creatures, none of them worked. Coffee planters were advised to use a bait of a mixture of larvin, rice bran, castor oil and jaggery to kill the pest. However, this had limited success. Theirself-help groups then came together in Hundli and symbolically launched a scheme named 'Catch and Kill' –growers offered Rs 4 per kg of snails caught. The labourers went beyond the call of duty to grab as many snails as possible to make some extra moolah!

The scheme was a great success as labourers caught thousands of kilos of snails. The snails thus collected were given a decent burial. However, there were many who felt that the burial ground must be covered with some kind of pesticide to ensure that the snails would be destroyed completely and Coffee Board officer Muralidhar was one of the people who was not happy with the mere 'decent burial' of the snails.

Admitting that the giant African snail has been wreaking havoc in Kodagu over the past one month, Karnataka Horticulture Commissioner, Prabash Chandra Ray said that his department would be collaborating with the Coffee Board in dealing with the menace, the Hindu Business Line reported on September 8.

Coffee Production

Coffee is being grown on one lakh acres of land in this tiny district with the production of 1,19,000 tonnes last year, of which 1,02,825 was Robusta and 17,035 tonnes was Arabica. Hassan district produces 30,875 tonnes and Chickmagalur district produces 71,010 tonnes, which make the total production of state - 2,21,745 tonnes. Kerala produces 63,265 tonnes while Tamil Nadu produces 16,335 tonnes annually and country's total production was 3,12,000 tonnes last year. According to Coffee board, the production will cross 3.45 lakh tonnes next year. Nearly two lakh tonnes of Coffee is being exported while one lakh tonne is left for domestic consumption.

Though Coffee growers face many problems such as increasing production cost, shortage of labour; most growers took up pepper plantation as a mixed crop to supplement their income.However, even the pepper vines are being affected by this nocturnal pest.

The growers were fetching Rs 650-680 for a kilogram of black pepper a year ago but now the price has slumped to just Rs 360-380 owing to the import of poor quality Vietnam pepper. Two months ago, growers in Gonicoppa staged a huge protest against import of poor quality pepper and that being sold as Coorg pepper.

A pepper trader said that the importers are misusing tax exemption norms of the union government. They import poor quality Vietnam pepper for Rs 270 and bring it inside the country through fake documents claiming that is Sri Lankan pepper. Vietnam pepper attracts 70 percent of import tax and excise duty while Sri Lanka being the SAARC nation, attracts just 8 percent tax.

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