New Delhi, Oct 24 (UNI) A day after underlining the need for replantation and rejuvenation of plantation crops in the country for the benefit of farmers, workers and other stakeholders, Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said plantations are important for the development of remote areas, employment generation for poor and weaker sections of the society, export earnings and for creating a large industrial base for processing industries.
'' We are largely dependent on agriculture as it forms the backbone of our economy (and) 15 per cent of the total agricultural export earnings come from tea, coffee and rubber although the plantation crops occupy only one per cent of the total agricultural area in the country, '' the minister told the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of his ministry here last evening.
Highlighting the contributions of the plantation sector to the economies of the southern, eastern and north-eastern states, he said tea is cultivated in remote, hilly regions, while coffee is an integral part of the ecology of the Western Ghats. The bulk of the production of coffee, natural rubber and spices comes from smallholdings but in the tea industry nearly 80 per cent is accounted for by the corporate sector.
The total number of people engaged in the plantation industry is about 20 million, he informed the panel.
The meeting was attended by Sambasiva Rao, Ram Singh Kaswan, Rajeev Shukla, Sharad Joshi, Shantaram Naik, Sudhangshu Seal, N R Govindarajar, M Rajasekara Murthi, Abu Asim Azmi and Naresh Gujral.
Commerce Secretary G K Pillai and Chairmen of the Tea Board, Coffee Board, Tobacco Board, Rubber Board and Spices Board were also present.
Mr Joshi urged for the production of more organic spices, while Mr Seal brought up the issue of Darjeeling tea being exported by some exporters by misleading the brand and inquired about the performance of SEZs in the country.
The Minister said though India accounted for only 4.5 per cent of the world production of coffee, it has created a niche for itself in the international market. Nearly 70 per cent of the coffee produced in the country is exported. In 2006-07, 2.43 lakh tons of coffee valued at Rs.1958 crore was exported.
He said, '' India ranks fourth in production and consumption of natural rubber in the world of which more than 80 per cent comes from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Rubber production of India is around 8.50 lakh tonnes which mainly meets the domestic requirement and about 50 per cent of it is consumed by the tyre industry alone.'' He said India exported spices worth Rs 3,575 crore in 2006-07, while the export of tobacco and its products earned a foreign exchange equivalent of Rs 1,723.42 crore. Tobacco, an important cash crop, provides livelihood to nearly 36 million people, both directly and indirectly, he added.
Mr Kamal Nath said the government has taken several initiatives to ensure the healthy growth of the plantation sector. '' We have already set up a Special Purpose Tea Fund for replantation and rejuvenation of tea gardens. Similar packages, like the SPTF for tea are being put in place for spices, coffee and rubber for replanting and rejuvenation,'' he added.