West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has allowed resuming operations in the gardens of Darjeeling, Doars and Terai with a workforce of 25%.
The markets of the US, UK, Canada, Russia and Iran would not get the flavours of Darjeeling until the end of July this year since the first flush of tea from the gardens in the northernmost district of West Bengal that is entirely exported has been lost; lost from the lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, this notion created by the tea estate owners of Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is absolutely wrong since COVID-19 has impacted to the extend of only 3% loss in production of the first flush of Darjeeling variety and export markets are not going to miss it, Sujit Patra, secretary of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) told FE.
“Around 87 tea estates of Darjeeling, after closure during December and January, resumed operations from mid-February. The lockdown started from March 25 onwards and by that time, the first flush was ready and plucking was almost of over,” Patra said.
Of the 1.5-1.7 million kg (mkg) produced in the first flush from the gardens of Darjeeling, not more than 0.051 mkg was lost. So exports would not get hit and importers are in touch with their respective garden owners and agents to procure their required quantity.
There may be some hurdles in shipments during the lockdown period for which the first flush may enter a bit late in the overseas markets. Although some variety of Nepal, Chinese and Sri Lankan tea may take a chance to fill up the vacuum, the problems of shipment remains the same for all.
Of the odd 1,100- 1,300 mkg of tea produced across the gardens of India per annum, the gardens of Darjeeling produce not more than 8.5 mkg per annum of which only 2 mkg is domestically consumed. The rest is entirely exported, which fetches an average price between Rs 800-1,000 per kg. The domestic consumption mainly happens in West Bengal.
Of the 8.5 mkg produced per annum, the first flush’s share is between 20% and 25%, which is entirely exported and the second flush also produces such quality, most of which is exported. So, the marginal shortfall that is going on in the first flush may be made up in the second flush provided the weather is favourable.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has allowed resuming operations in the gardens of Darjeeling, Doars and Terai with a workforce of 25%. This workforce has been deployed in skiffing which will take around 10-12 days. The second flush comes in early May but that would require the entire workforce to be deployed to a get a proper harvest.
Garden owners are in talks with the government so as to restore normalcy in operations. Loss in production of Darjeeling tea would mean losing out in exports, which neither the government nor the garden-owners want to concede.