Agri Business

Darjeeling tea growers worried by threat to block first flush

Santanu Sanyal Kolkata | Updated on February 24, 2011 Published on February 24, 2011

first flush

The tea growers of Darjeeling have appealed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) to let the first flush tea — due to arrive in the market shortly — come out of the gardens. “Our appeal has already been sent to the GJM leadership”, a spokesman for the Darjeeling Tea Association, the body of Darjeeling planters, told Business Line over phone from Darjeeling. On Tuesday, the GJM, spearheading an agitation in support of a separate State of Gorkhaland, announced that it would stop first flush tea to come out of tea gardens.

“Only about 18 to 20 per cent of the total Darjeeling production of nine to 10 million kg (mkg) is first flush tea, which commands a premium price. The production has already started in some of the gardens, particularly those located in lower altitude, and number of such gardens will be about one-third of the total of 85,” he said. “The production in the gardens located in higher altitude will start in another 10 to 15 days.”

Whether the threat is real or not, both workers and owners of gardens in the hills are apprehensive of uncertainty during the forthcoming peak season. There are about 55,000 permanent tea-garden workers in Darjeeling, and another 16,000 temporary.The owners are worried because the foreign buyers might cancel the orders. Already, a few orders have been cancelled. The cancellations might cause piling up of stocks, and accumulation for long might hurt thequality, yielding lower prices. If the despatch is stopped, then the owners will have to meet all the expenses, including payment of wages to workers, leaving a hole in their pockets. This might also push up the demand for Nepal tea, inferior in quality. Some Darjeeling teas might even be smuggled to Nepal.

The owners do not foresee yet another call for bandh in the hills by the GJM. The recent bandh hit a large section of its followers dependent on tourism for their livelihood. The board-level school examinations due shortly is yet another factor. The GJM leadership therefore is turning to the tea industry, presumably to press indirectly both the State and Union Governments.

“Last year, the Darjeeling tea production was a little less than eight million kg against the normal nine to 10 mkg, and the drop was due to bad weather. We were hoping good crops this year following good rains in January and February, unlike last year,” said a Darjeeling tea planter. “But we're now keeping our fingers crossed.”

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Published on February 24, 2011
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