The novel coronavirus pandemic is set to hit the tea producers of the world as the disease and the related lockdowns and social distancing norms have resulted in a shutdown of the harvest in several important regions, including picking of the India’s “champagne of teas” form India.
Even though there have been forecasts of increased demand for tea as more people are forced to remain indoors due to the pandemic, there is a frustration brewing among the producers because of the enforced quarantining of their workforce. It is expected that the output of tea from India will drop by 9 per cent for the current year.
Work at the tea gardens have been halted for more than a month because of the coronavirus related lockdown measures in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. The outbreak of the pandemic in India could not have come a t a worse time for Indian tea growers. It struck the tea gardens just when the most valuable harvest of the year was to happen.
Indian tea growers are known to follow very specific production periods called flushes, according to experts. The first flush or the first tea leaves of the season in Darjeeling in the country’s eastern state of West Bengal, is the finest of the tea available and is known as the “champagne of teas”. That harvest has been severely impacted by the pandemic. As much as 40 per cent of the annual revenues for the tea growers of the region is accounted for by this harvest which is generally picked between March and April every year.
Disruption in tea industry has also been reported from other tea exporting countries, including China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Kenya, another exporter of tea has managed ot avoid any major disruption because of the pandemic. There can be a 15 per cent rise in output in the country this year according to the predictions of the International Tea Committee.
“Because of the weather, [Kenya] can produce tea all year round,” said Ibi Idoniboye, senior market analyst for Mintec.
Operations at tea gardens have also been affected Sri Lanka with a record decline in decades reported for tea production in the first quarter of the year from the country. Exports of yea form the country have also gone down year on year basis with a drop of 14.1 million kilograms to 59.5 million kilograms.
For the first time, the weekly tea auction in Sri Lanka – which has been ongoing for the last 125 years, was done online in April, because of the strict social distancing measures. The auctions attract about 200 people and held usually in Colombo.
“This [the pandemic] is the first time tea production was affected in a country wide level,” said Roshan Rajadurai of the Planters’ Association. After work coming to a complete halt for a couple of days, the government allowed some relaxation in the agricultural sector – allowing for some work to begin, he said.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)