By Prarthana Mitra
Tea production and export in India has broken all records this year, according to an official report released by the Tea Board of India on Tuesday. Registering an increase of 6% over last year’s figures, the total tea production over the financial year 2017-2018 stands at a whopping 1325.05 million kgs, while exports have yielded a revenue of $785.92 million.
Here’s what happened
Figures at the end 2017-18 show a marked increase in tea production by 74.56 million kgs (mkg), as compared to1,250.49 mkg produced in 2016-17. According to official reports, there has been a steady growth in production since mid-last year, when increased exports, refurbished processing units and improved climatic conditions led experts to be hopeful about a plentiful harvest at the end of the year.
However, in January and February, the output in North and South India was dampened due to harsh winters and inadequate factories to prepare the leaves for inland consumption and export. However, spring marked a period of recovery wherein there was a production of 46.72 mkg in North India in March, against 41.49 mkg in March 2017, thus marking an increase of about 13%. The total quantity of tea exported during 2017-18 increased by 28.94 mkg or 12.7% from previous year’s census.
Why you should care
In 1946, George Orwell jotted down the 12 golden rules of making the perfect pot of tea. Calling the beverage one of the mainstays of civilisation, his recipe began with, “First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea.”
Seventy-odd years later, the cash crop that has been a huge part of the Indian economy, culture and society, recorded its highest production as well as exports, still retaining its old-world charm.
Indian tea has always been one of the most popular beverages globally. The earlier record for the highest quantity of tea exports was during 1976-77 when the total quantity exported was 242.42 million kg. The impressive foreign exchange garnered from tea exports is driven by foreign demand, majorly from Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia. Assam continues to produce more than 52 percent of the country’s tea, with Coorg, Coonoor and several hilly hinterlands in the south, serving up their own distinct flavours across the world.
At the tea gardens, however, there is widespread discontent, primarily due to heavy-handed government regulations, abysmal minimum support prices and inadequate infrastructure. According to the Economist, labour at the tea garden now accounts for around half of production costs, a figure which has grown by 12% a year over the past three years. Despite that, few workers make more than $2 a day on top of their housing cost and other benefits, and child labour is rife.
Nevertheless, the Indian tea industry continues to brew, even as tea marketers around the world are hell-bent bent on getting consumers to moving them from loose tea to tea bags, canned iced tea or premium global blends. This report, therefore, brings joy to tea brands like Tata, Hindustan Unilever and McLeod Rusel, as well as to the tea sommeliers and tea-lettantes of India.
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