Cuppa can turn costly as rain, lockdown brew trouble for tea production

The COVID-19 infused lockdown resulted in an estimated crop loss of 150 million kilogram in Assam and West Bengal during March to June, according to data

Darjeeling tea garden
The fall in tea production comes when millions of people confined indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic spiked the demand for the beverage, which is believed to have immunity-boosting properties | Representative Photo: PTI

A cup of tea is going to be dearer as prices of tea at auction centres across the country shot up due to supply shortage caused by the lockdown and incessant rains.

The COVID-19 infused lockdown resulted in an estimated crop loss of 150 million kilogram in Assam and West Bengal during March to June, according to a figure provided by the Tea Association of India (TAI).

The fall in production comes when millions of people confined indoors due to the pandemic spiked the demand for the beverage, which is believed to have immunity-boosting properties.

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The demand-supply gap is compelling buyers to pay more during auctions, said industry sources. According to them, the average price per kg of tea shot up at auction centres across the country, except Kochi (Cochin).

During the last auction on July 4, the average price per kg of tea in Kolkata was ₹266.99 up from ₹176.81 on the corresponding day in 2019. Similarly, in Guwahati it was ₹272.12 as compared to ₹158.04 last year.

Similarly, a stiff rise was also witnessed in Siliguri auction centre where, a kilo of tea on an average was sold for ₹228.76, which was ₹84.19 more than the price on the corresponding day in 2019.

In Kochi, however, the prices slightly dipped in the last auction compared to last year, according to the Tea Board of India’s data. During last year’s July 4 auction, the average price for a kilogram of tea in Kochi was ₹111.24. This year, it was ₹110.21.

Even the small tea growers are getting better prices for their produce this year, sources added.

Despite the rise in prices the industry is worried about the continuous blows the sector has been enduring since the beginning of the fresh season. First it was the lockdown, and now the incessant rains plummeted the production.

“While the industry was hopeful to make at par crop in the month of July in comparison with last year’s outputs of 97.19 million kilogram in Assam and 53.62 million kilogram in West Bengal, the crop loss for the month on a conservative basis is now being estimated to be at least 20 percent in both the states,” said TAI’s secretary general P.K. Bhattacharjee.

This means, he said, there would be a crop loss of 19 million kg in Assam and 11 million kg in West Bengal.

“The Industry is heading for a major crisis because loss suffered in terms of crop till date and the prospects of recouping in the coming months is difficult on the face of massive rainfall reported from tea growing regions of both Assam and West Bengal.

After a halt in production due to the lockdown, tea estates in Assam and West Bengal resumed operations from April 12 with a partial workforce. But the plucking operations could not be resumed immediately, as tea bushes had overgrown during the lockdown period and needed to be pruned.

The plucking work had started gaining momentum since June, but the heavy downpours in tea-growing upper Assam districts and North Bengal districts of West Bengal caused the fresh setback.

This would further dip the production and widen the supply-demand gap, the industry sources said.

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