Hit by delayed first flush, tea growers worried about later harvestsThe first flush, the most lucrative of four harvests, had almost halved because of the winter drought. But farmers are hopeful that prices will be high this year too like last year.
With the sprouting of tea leaves delayed for first flush by more than three weeks, tea growers in Nepal’s eastern hills are worried that the poor harvest will continue for the later harvests during the second, third and fourth flush harvests.
The harvest for the first flush had almost halved than normal. New leaves are not sprouting in tea plants for the second flush harvest which normally starts in May.
According to tea growers, the winter drought, starting in December 2020 and lasting until February this year, has led to poor plant health.
But there is a silver lining as well.
At least two traders to whom the Post spoke to, said the increased Covid-19 cases in India, one of the world’s largest tea producers as well as exporters, may trigger a massive demand for tea in India as well as other overseas markets.
The various states in India have already started imposing lockdowns to tame the virus spread.
Deepak Khanal, spokesperson for National Tea and Coffee Development Board, said that demand for Nepali tea could grow to the last year’s level if India imposes the lockdowns.
According to traders, the export prices of processed CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea had increased to a record IRs225 per kg [Rs360 per kg] last year in the Indian market and export prices of orthodox tea had doubled to a record Rs1,200 per kg last year as Covid-19 impacted the supply chain. Nearly 80 percent of Nepal’s tea is exported to India.
The price of CTC tea, however, has now dropped to IRs125 per kg [Rs200 per kg].
Aditya Parajuli, vice president of Nepal Tea Planters Association, said that at present the demand for tea in India and prices have dropped due to the scorching summer heat when people prefer to drink tea less.
“The production of tea has dropped due to winter drought in Nepal. Due to less supply, demand could grow. But we are not sure export prices will increase this year too,” said Parajuli.
According to the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, there are four flushes each growing season in Nepal.
The first flush is generally plucked during the spring — mid-February to early April. In the first the finest two leaves and buds are plucked.
The first flush is the first plucking of a tea plant’s harvest season and yields the purest and freshest cup of tea. It nets farmers the most income and makes up the bulk of their annual revenue.
The second flush is the green tea leaves picked from late May to June. These are more fully constructed then the first flush varieties. The colour of the tea is bright, the taste full and round with a fruity note.
The third is the monsoon flush and harvest lasts from June-end and continues till the end of September. The tea produced during this period contains a lot of moisture and has more colour and strength. Autumn flush, the fourth flush, harvest begins in October.
The later flushes do not fetch the premium prices as the initial flush.
Tea farmers said that in previous years, tea harvest used to start from mid-February but this year, it started only in early April as plants did not sprout the leaves.
Mahesh Aryal of Kanyam said they have harvested leaves once this season and now tea leaves are not growing.
"The production of first flush has also dropped sharply," he said.
The eastern hilly districts, including Ilam, produce nearly 6,000 tonnes of orthodox tea annually. There are 24 large and 100 small and medium tea processors in Ilam alone. About 15,000 farmers depend on the crop for their livelihood.
The tea sector, which was impacted last year due to Covid-19, was expected to improve this year. But with the second wave of Covid-19, farmers have started worrying.
But for farmers, there is good news as well. The tea factories have already fixed the price of green tea leaves this year, which usually used to be fixed after the harvest and every year tussles used to flare up between the small tea producers and the buyers regarding the prices.
The factories producing organic tea have increased prices significantly.
According to Khanal, the price of green orthodox tea leaves has increased to Rs100 per kg, from Rs40 per kg.
The producers of CTC tea have also fixed the price of tea leaves at Rs40 per kg this year, from Rs18 per kg last year. The prices, however, depend on the quality of the leaves.
According to tea growers, the main market for the tea produced in the district is Kolkata, India but due to the West Bengal Assembly elections 2021, which is being held between March 27 to April 29 in eight phases, Nepali traders are currently facing problems exporting tea.
Despite the Covid-19 related restrictions last year, shipments of orthodox tea increased due to a rise in demand in Europe and the United States.
Province 1 accounts for almost 95 percent of the tea produced in the country.
Commercial tea production is being expanded to 13 districts from the five districts —Jhapa, Ilam, Panchthar, Dhankuta and Terhathum— at present in the eastern region.
According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre, the country’s tea export increased sharply by 64.5 percent in the first nine months of the current fiscal year, beginning mid-July 2020, compared to the same period last year due to growing demand in India and other countries.
The income from the tea export amounted to Rs3.06 billion in the review period as compared to Rs1.86 billion in the same time last fiscal year. Nepal exported 9,714 tonnes of tea during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, up from 7,747 tonnes in the same period last fiscal year.
Nepal’s total tea production stands at 24,803 tonnes annually.