Assam to lose 80 million kgs of tea, worth Rs 1,218 crore, claims tea body

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Assam tea farmer (Photo: IANS)

Guwahati– In view of the lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic, the tea industry in Assam has estimated a loss of 80 million kgs of tea valued at Rs 1,218 crore, North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) claimed on Wednesday releasing a study report.

According to NETA adviser Bidyananda Barkakoty, who released the study report in Guwahati, the total estimated crop loss of Assam tea industry due to lockdown is about 80 million kgs. “As per the Tea Board of India official figures, the annual average price of tea of north India (which includes Assam) at the Indian auctions in 2019 was Rs 152.26 per kg. Therefore, the total revenue loss of Assam tea industry due to lockdown is 80 million kgs with a total value of Rs 1,218 crore,” said Barkakoty.

“We have assessed the revenue loss as realistically as possible based on available official data of Tea Board of India.” The NETA adviser said that tea plantation in Assam is seasonal in nature. After an unproductive off-season gap of almost three months, the new tea season had barely started around the second week of March.

He said that the tea gardens had to close down from March 22 due to COVID-19 related issues and the subsequent countrywide lockdown. “Therefore, we have lost almost the entire crop of March (2020) which is estimated to be about 30 million kgs. As per Tea Board of India figures, the harvesting of tea in Assam in March 2019 was 4.6 per cent of Assam’s annual production in 2019 (Jan to Dec) which was 715.79 million kgs,” said the report.

The report said that due to prolonged lockdown, about 35 per cent of tea plantations would have to be skiffed (removal of overgrown tea leaves). “Skiffing operation would add to extra costs and would require two to three weeks for recovery to bring the tea bushes into pluckable condition. Due to this skiffing operation, there would be crop loss in April and May.”

According to the report, in Assam, in the month of April last year (2019), 6.3 per cent of annual crop was harvested. Considering the fact that the plucking operations would start from April 15 and taking into account the crop loss due to skiffing, the total crop loss for the month of April would be about 30 million kgs. The NETA report said that skiffed areas would continue to lose crop in May until their full recovery. The crop of Assam in May last year (2019) was 9.3 per cent of annual crop. The estimated crop loss for May would be about 20 million kgs.

Most of the 850-odd tea gardens in the northeastern states, mostly in Assam (800) and Tripura (54), have started plucking and processing from Monday after weeks of suspension of work due to lockdown caused by COVID-19.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla in his consolidated guidelines asked the Chief Secretaries of all states and Union Territories to resume the works of the tea industries including plantation works with maximum of 50 per cent workers. Of the total domestic tea production of 1,325.05 million kgs last year, 720 million kgs came from Assam, which on an average produces 52 per cent of India’s total tea.

In 1990, Assam’s tea production was only 388 million kgs which has grown to 692 million kgs in 2018 and 720 million kg last year (2019). Assam has around 800 big tea gardens and over 1.20 lakh small tea growers engaging around 8 lakh workers in this organised industry. (IANS)

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