The Indian Wire » Environment » Indian Tea Industry and the pandemic: A fair chance to return to Sustainability

Indian Tea Industry and the pandemic: A fair chance to return to Sustainability

India is the second largest tea producer in the world after China, simply mastering in three most-loved types: Assam tea (highest cultivation), Nilgiri tea (subtle and gentle flavors) and Darjeeling tea (Superior quality tea).

India also significantly consumes as well as exports tea, the growth of which increased by 6.3% alone in 2017.

Major Indian tea importing countries include Russia, United States, United Kingdom, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Morocco, Japan, France, UAE, Canada, Vietnam, Netherlands, and Kazakhstan.

But GST, Demonetization and the biggest evil Covid has left a scar in the industry’s outputs, the way it moved across the entire supply chain and the way major packaging Companies worked and managed.

Region producing Tea with greatest trade share:

North Eastern region register the largest market share of around 61.3% (Assam alone for more than 50% production), being closely followed by Southern Tea Gardens.

Indian tea garden has travelled greatly from the last 200 years, with consignment for just 12 boxes in 1835 to such a well-established market.

But major problems have encircled these estates (NE ones prominently) as well as the lives of laborers working there. Many of these are socio-economic like low wages, poor infrastructure, reduction in tea prices while auctioning, increased pollution fee, less transport subsidy, poor labor schemes etc.

Even the number of skilled laborers has reduced, that was earlier fed by the migrating populations from Bengal and Bihar, either due to MGNREGS or better alternatives.

Macro-nutrient deficiency as well as wide range of communicable diseases are common due to poor living and working conditions.

The situation is gross and remain largely unnoticed as between 2000 and 2015, more than 1400 deaths were reported in the closed tea gardens of North Bengal and North East India; all credits to Malnutrition.

All about Tea:

Tea is a commercial crop that offers a very limited range of its climatic requirements to survive.

Therefore, climate is a crucial factor in getting ascertained as to where the tea plant can be grown and its quality to be grown in that particular area.

Tea plants can adapt to light snow or frost, but cannot handle prolonged cold winters or heavy snow.

Even the rainfall needs to be well-distributed throughout the year as the plant leaves cannot tolerate drought. Though tea is a water-loving plant yet it does not seem to withstand water-logged conditions.

Crashing Sustainability of these tea Havens in India:

Tea production itself renders a negative impact on its surroundings. Loss of habitat, deforestation is common apart from certain wider environmental impacts.

Land clearance for tea cultivation alters the natural flow of water and increases soil erosion, loss of wetland habitats and subsequent pollution of rivers and lakes. Persistent soil acidification is also noticed.

Unfavorable climatic conditions for tea plantations owing to scanty or very heavy rainfall have badly affected the tea industry.

Climate change severely affects tea yields by totally altering the precipitation levels, increasing temperatures, shift in timing of seasons and encouraging insect pests including Bacteria (more vulnerable with droughts).

“When temperatures start going up, the insects start coming out,” explains an ecologist.

In a 2018 survey taken in Assam amongst tea-farm workers, 88% of its managers and 97% of smallholders said that adverse climate conditions have proven a threat to their tea-growing operations.

A shift observed in the seasons has led to shorter growing season for tea and lower productivity looms during the first and second flush i.e., the earliest and most valuable harvests.

How is tea losing its benefits with temperature change?

In general, about 20–30% of tea’s mass constitutes antioxidants, those help in neutralizing highly reactive molecules called free radicals in human body, those if left free, can damage cells.

Tea’s antioxidant level is found to be affected by temperature and rainfall. More rainfall and higher elevation (lower temperatures) increases the antioxidant level in toto.

Meaning such beneficial antioxidants could vanish if tea is grown on lower hills.

Ensuring sustainability in times of crisis:

82–100% of plantations have begun trying sustainable methods: contour farming (crops and effective drainage along the terraces to check water availability to the soil and prevent erosion), covering soil with mulch (to conserve moisture), providing shade for tea plants or growing adaptable vegetation side-by-side eg Palm oil alongside tea plants.

Without wasting further time, Indian tea industry needs to understand gravity of this situation. A multi-stakeholder approach involving garden owners, local tea cultivating communities and conscious consumers, can help bring back lost regional ecosystem balance.

About the author

Alaina Ali Beg

I am a lover of all arts and therefore can dream myself in all places where the World takes me. I am an avid animal lover and firmly believes that Nature is the true sorcerer.

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