Two tea damaging trends are converging in Northern India.
Heavy monsoon rains this week and last led to unusually widespread flooding in Assam while northern reaches of the country are experiencing unusually cool, wet weather.
Tea producers in Darjeeling, in the Himalayan foothills, saw good yields in the first flush but now face lower prices as the second flush gets underway. Foreign buyers appear hesitant to make offers for teas that in previous years were in high demand. Japan was singled out for its “lukewarm” demand, according to press accounts in The Calcutta Telegraph. The Japanese normally purchase about 1 million kilograms annually, a quantity down by half this year.
Prateek Poddar, director of Poddar HMP Group, owner of Namring garden, told reporters, “There is hardly any demand this year from Japan. Prices are low too. I have not seen such a situation in a decade.”
Japan buyers primarily seek out first flush teas that are often blended and sold at high prices in a green-tea consuming country where black teas are considered exotic. Darjeeling presents as an oolong in the cup, a prized style favored by local connoisseurs.
Atul Asthana, managing director & CEO of Goodricke Group, said “There are many external factors which we cannot control. We are focusing on producing quality tea and hoping that buyers will return,” he said, adding that major blenders were absent.
The prices of broken leaf and fannings, which are consumed in the domestic market, and to make tea bags have been hardest hit with prices down an average $1.63 (INR112) per kilogram. Close to 40% of tea remained unsold in the tea auction, a sign of tepid demand.
The exact reason for the slump in prices, which are down 34% compared to last year, is unknown but locally attributed to the 108-day strike in 2017 that led many retailers to switch from Darjeeling to other tea origins. These include high-grown Sri Lankan teas, Indonesian teas, and those from Nepal which are cheaper and have a taste profile very close to the teas produced in the 87 gardens in Darjeeling. Production totals are expected to fall well below the 8.5 million tons normally harvested.
Meanwhile the situation in Assam has worsened. A week of rains breached lowland barriers and flooded thousands of hectares of tea lands. On Monday major highway NH37 near Kaziranga National Park was still submerged and levees in Guwahati are at capacity to restrain the mighty Brahmaputra River which continues to rise.
The state government is managing rescue efforts including relocation of 2.6 million, according to Chief Secretary of Home and Disaster Management, Kumar Sanjay Krishna. Krishna told APN News the floods had claimed 11 lives. There are 20,000 sheltered in 62 temporary relief camps. A total of 2,168 villages are inundated and 15 trains have been halted short of their destination. To date 31 of the 33 districts in Assam with Jorhat and Sonitpur some of the hardest hit.
There is also concern for the well-being of the Great Indian Rhino and other rare animals in the national park, he said. He estimates 70% of the Kaziranga National Park is submerged. “The Forest Department is taking all steps to prevent poaching of animals,” he said.
Source: The Telegraph India