TEA: Gardens plead for June relief – Bengal impervious ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Darjeeling, May 17: The Darjeeling tea industry has appealed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to exempt the gardens from the 10-day strike scheduled to begin on June 12.
The appeal comes at a time when the production of Darjeeling Tea has hit an all time low. The Tea Board of India has said the hill gardens produced only 8.3 million kg of made-tea in 2009 compared to 14 million kg in the early 1980s. Further, the strike period covers the days of second flush plucking.
“The drought has already played havoc with the industry. After October 9, the hills received a substantial amount of rainfall only on April 14. Production of first flush, which accounts for 20 per cent of the annual production, has already come down by 40 per cent,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association.
He added that a mere shower would not help the industry, as the bushes required sustained and uniform water for better yield.
“Conditions were so bad that large sections of bushes were destroyed in fires in gardens at Soureni and Phuguri (Mirik),” said Mukherjee, adding that the production would be hit hard if the June 12 strike included the tea estates.
The planters are most worried about the timing of the strike. “It is between the first and third week of June that the plucking of second flush takes place. We do not mind if the tea despatched from the gardens are stopped during that period but if the plucking is affected, the leaves will become useless and the production will be hit hard,” said Mukherjee.
The first two flushes, which account for 40 per cent of the total annual production, fetches the premium price. “The rest of the flushes (monsoon and autumn) are sold at lower prices. Export prices have already been hit by the global meltdown,” said Mukherjee.
The production cost per kg of tea is estimated to be between Rs 240 and Rs 310 for organic gardens and Rs 170-180 for non-organic estates. Of the 87 registered gardens in the hills, which can sell their produce as Darjeeling Tea, almost 60 per cent are already organic or are on the verge of conversion.
“In the past two years of the agitation, the industry has been largely kept out of strikes’ purview. The scheduled 10-day strike has been badly timed as far as the industry is concerned. We will write to the Morcha and request the party keep the tea estates out of the strike’s purview,” said the association secretary.
The hill gardens spread over 17,500 hectares employ about 55,000 permanent workers and 1 lakh temporary labourers. “The strike will hit the workers as well since bonus is given to them depending on the total wages they receive annually,” said Mukherjee.
Bimal Gurung, the president of the Morcha, was not available for comments.
North Indian tea firms too look outwards to offset cost
FROM THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BY ROHIT KHANNA
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 2121 hrs IST: The trend of overseas acquisition is not limited to tea companies based in South India.
Even north Indian tea companies with plantations in Assam valley, Cachar, Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai region are scouting for gardens overseas. The move, the companies feel, will also help them in hedging production loss if there is a shortfall in domestic production.
Last year, the world’s largest tea producer McLeod Russel entered Uganda after its unit Borelli Tea Holdings signed a share purchase agreement with UK firms James Finlay Ltd and James Finlay International for acquiring a tea firm in the country.
McLeod Russel went on an acquisition drive even before that and acquired Phu Ben Tea Company of Vietnam .
North Indian production has been suffering from trade union problems and labour unrest on different issues. The Gorkha agitation too has taken a toll on the tea industry in the Darjeeling and Dooars regions.
Almost 70,000 small tea growers in Assam stopped production for a day last month which resulted in decline in production by 5 lakh kg. As the small tea growers contribute to around one-fourth of Assam ’s production of 500 mkg per day, such unrests have been a cause of concern for the industry.
“There is a huge hedging factor involved apart from the urge to meet increasing demand,” said Azam Monem, director of McLeod Russel. “For example, climate patterns in Assam vary from north to south banks. Such change in climate impacts production,” he said.
“From that point of view, Africa is certainly a country to look into seriously. Moreover, recent scientific research has found that there is lesser change of ground temperature in African countries all through the year. Between summer and winter, it varies a maximum of 4-5 degree Celsius. That is good for the crop,” he said.
According to S Patra, secretary of the Indian Tea Association, Indian tea producers are going for acquisition after the industry started looking up in the last couple of years. “Lower price realisation and increase in input cost were crippling the industry. India lost some of its traditional markets too. But things started to look up after 2007,” Patra said.
Meanwhile, India was able to increase export s in markets like China, Iran and the Russian Federation as consumption went up in those countries.