The lockdown imposed in Kerala following the second wave of Covid-19 has left small tea growers facing a crisis in view of tea factories deciding to reduce procurement of green leaves.

A subdued demand for tea in the retail market and the lockdown in the State has reported to have forced tea factories to slow down their leaf intake from small growers. There are around 25,000-odd small tea growers in the Idukki region, who regularly supply green leaves to about 36 factories in Peermedu, Vandiperiyar, Munnar, Calvary Mount, etc.

However, many of the tea producing companies are operating in the lockdown with reduced staff strength and their procurement was only a minimal quantity, said YC Stephen, President of Idukki Small Tea Growers Federation.

The emerging situation, he said, has led to a drop in the price of green tea leaves in the region with average rates ranging between ₹9 and ₹15. The Tea Board fixed price for green leaves is ₹14.42 per kg. The procurement price of green leaves a month ago was ₹34 per kg. The drop in prices has forced growers to abandon the leaves plucked already. The average plucking of green leaves in the region was four lakh kg in 15 days.

Production drop

A majority of the small tea growers are having tea plantations in the range between 60 cents and seven acres and the social distancing norms enforced as part of Covid protocols in tea gardens has affected plucking of leaves. This has led to a production drop in green leaves. Besides, the closing down of outlets to procure bought tea leaves in towns in the wake of the lockdown has affected the growers badly. Some of the growers had even tried their own ways to take leaves directly to the company's gate. But the refusal to procure such stuff has forced them to discard their produce on their way back, Stephen said.

There are instances of overgrowing of leaves in tea bushes. As per quality norms, overgrown green leaves cannot be used for producing tea, and it has to be pruned down to carry out proper and timely harvest. Besides, the detection of Mite and Bister Blight diseases in plantations due to humid climate and intermittent rains has made things worse for growers, he said and urged the intervention of the government to protect the small tea growers from worsening the crisis.