India is the second-largest producer and one of the largest consumers of tea in the world. Our country consumes about 25%-27% of the tea produced globally. Also, India accounts for 10%-12% of the world’s tea exports. We are known for some of the best flavors of tea including Darjeeling tea, Assam tea, and so on. Most of the tea that we produce comes from the country’s North-Eastern region, with West Bengal and Assam being the leading producers. Let’s understand why the tea industry is losing its lustre despite Indian’s unconditional love for tea.
Reasons why the tea industry is declining
There are three main aspects through which we can understand why the Indian tea industry is going down.
As per Tea Board data, the export of Indian tea has declined by around 10% to 13.7 crore kilograms during January-September in 2021. This steep fall in the export volume is caused by a variety of factors. One of the prime ones is a surge in the imports of low-cost tea varieties. In 2021, total tea imports were up by 50% as compared to 2019. Usually, the tea imported in India is re-exported to other countries but this time, a fair chunk of it was absorbed in the domestic market itself. Also, 80% of the tea produced within India was sold for domestic consumption.
The Indian tea export is suffering for the past 2-3 years, due to the low prices of Kenyan and Sri Lankan tea. Kenyan tea auction price average is very less as compared to the Indian auction average. Several other reasons impacting tea exports include the non-availability of shipping containers, the ban on exporting tea to countries like Iran and Pakistan, and the pandemic-induced economy.
2. Labor demand
The global pandemic had affected numerous industries and sectors all across the world. The worst affected ones were those that required human interaction. Tea is harvested mainly by hand so that the quality of leaves can be preserved. Therefore, a large number of tea plantation workers are required. The restrictions during the pandemic have largely pushed these workers away from the industry, especially those working on a temporary basis.
3. Climate conditions
While there were pandemic-induced restrictions on garden activities during the lockdown period in 2020, the Indian tea industry had to face adverse weather conditions even afterward. A significant flood event of the Brahmaputra river in the north-eastern state of Assam has resulted in a major crop loss in 2020. Since then, the Indian tea industry has consistently been exposed to unfavourable climatic conditions owing to scanty or very heavy rainfall.
In order to overcome the above-mentioned hurdles, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the tea industry, our country should take several measures. This would include pushing exports not just to the traditional markets but to other potential markets as well. It should also work on boosting tea consumption by running several awareness campaigns.
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