Tamil Nadu’s tea, flower growers cry foul of losses due to COVID-19 lockdown

While many fear the plunging economy, the actual impact of the COVID-19 lockdown is visible in the already problem-ridden agriculture sector

COVID-19, coronavirus, Lockdown, tea, farmers, tea cultivation, flowers
The operation of the UNESCO heritage mountain train service in The Nilgiris last week has caused outrage among some political parties and unions in Tamil Nadu. Representational photo: iStock

Many people, including the Opposition Congress have criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for declaring a 21-day countrywide lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in India, without being prepared to face the upcoming crisis.

While many fear the plunging economy, the actual impact of the COVID-19 lockdown is visible in the already problem-ridden agriculture sector.

Amid other issues such as lack of sufficient rainfall, pest attack, increased input costs and not enough minimum support price, the small scale farmers are also dealing with the stress that the coronavirus pandemic has added.

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Even as the Tamil Nadu government has relaxed the curfew for farmers, it has confined it to only paddy cultivating farmers. Others like florists, beetle leaf cultivators and small scale tea growers still bear the brunt of this critical juncture.

With over 60,000 small scale tea growers, the Nilgiris district is the largest tea growing region in the southern India and stands tall alongside West Bengal and Assam in the country’s total tea production.

These thousands of tea cultivators are dependent on 16 tea factories, controlled by INDCOSERVE, the country’s largest tea cooperation federation.

However, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, even after being one among the biggest contributors to India’s total tea production, farmers of this district are facing the bottom of the barrel.

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“Every year in the months of December, January, and February, we lose large amount of cultivation due to frost. We recover the losses in the next three months between March and May, since the weather will be good for having a bountiful harvest. But this year due to the lockdown we are facing a grim situation,” said Manjai V Mohan, state president, Baduga Desa Party.

Mohan, who is also a farmer, said that the green tea leaves must be plucked once in 10 days as the full grown leaves are not as good in quality as the smaller ones.

“Only the small leaves give quality tea and if they are not plucked at regular intervals, the plant will grow as trees. The cultivation of tea should not be compared with other cultivation like paddy as they can be cultivated in a shorter period of time. But if the tea plant grows into a tree, we need to cut the tree and again plant new saplings. It will take at least two to three years, to harvest the tea leaves, provided if there is a good rainfall,” he added.

Mohan also urged the government to support the farmers by providing them ₹5000 per farmer as compensation.

COVID-19, coronavirus, Lockdown, tea, farmers, tea cultivation, flowers

Meanwhile, a similar situation is being faced by those who grow flowers.

Balamurugan, a florist who cultivates marigold, said these flowers are used for making garlands and are essential during marriages and funerals.

“But now even those programs have been halted and during the peak season since we see a lot of these happening in the months of March, April and May. We usually earn ₹60,000 to ₹70,000 per month in this time of year but due to lockdown all the flowers are perishing in the plants,” he said.

In December last year, the price of jasmine sky rocketed, due to low turnout because of frost.

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A kilo of jasmine was sold for about ₹3,000. However, now in the summer season when the farmers get some good cultivation they are losing their income even without plucking the flowers, said Subbaiah, a Thoothukudi-based jasmine cultivator.

It is not just the agricultural sector which produces edible products are taking the viral-hit, but also the cultivators of non-edible products.

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