Tea: No rain, no gain

The first flush of tea ~ the season’s first since winter ~ is likely to be severely affected by the absence of rainfall in north Bengal this year. Experts predict that first flush tea production could fall by over 50 per cent.

The whole of north Bengal has not experienced rain since early October last year. As a result, agricultural and tea-growing practices in the region are at stake.
According to Mr NK Basu, the principal advisor to the Indian Tea Planters Association (ITPA), tea bushes across the plantations have been drying out in the absence of rainfall. There has also been a steep rise in insects which damage the leaves of the bushes.

“If this dry spell continues I fear north Bengal will not be able to pluck more than three to four percent of the green leaves during the first flush that commences towards the end of March,” Mr Basu said.

The region has about 305 registered tea gardens spread over the Darjeeling Hills, the Dooars and the Terai. First flush tea represents about 10 per cent of the total of around 230 million kg of tea that the region produces every year.

As the expected fall for the first flush looms, tea growers in the region are already finding that growing a kilogram of green leaves now costs Rs 1.50 more than before. “This is due to increased expenses in pest control and irrigation brought on by the lack of rain,” Mr Basu said.

The meteorology department has been unable to provide any further good news.
“There is no possibility of rainfall in north Bengal over the next two or three days. However, Sikkim is likely to witness a light to moderate shower in the next 24 hours,” the director of the Alipore meteorology wing Mr GC Debnath said.