Severe drought has hit tea production in Assam although all-India average auction prices are on the rise for short supplies.
The state has also fetched a higher price during the April auctions compared to the March auctions this year though garden activities have dwindled down as never before.
“Plucking, which generally takes place seven days a week, has at present come down to three days a week because leaves on the bushes are scarce. Covid induced lockdown has hardly affected any garden activities as droughts has already destr0yed them, Azam Monem, a whole time director in McLoed Russels said.
While the drought in Assam continued until last week, there has been some rain in the last seven days preventing the drought to enter the second flush crop. The Assam variety first flush, is plucked in late March and the second flush, harvested later, is priced more for gold tips on the leaves. But all India prices, irrespective of harvest, have started moving up in April because of short supplies though an overall revenue deficit for Assam tea industry is expected for shortage of volumes.
Nevertheless average auction prices of Assam tea in the state during April moved up to Rs 185 a kg against an average of Rs 142 a kg during the March auctions. All India average auction prices during April was also higher at Rs 149 a kg compared to an average Rs 132 a kg during the March auctions.
The year 2021 has been an unusual year so far for Assam as far as tea production is concerned. The crop deficit during January to May this year has been to the tune of 60 million kg compared to the same period in 2019.
“We have not compared crop figures with the year 2020 because last year the crop deficit from January to May was 78 million kg due to Covid lockdown. In percentage terms, the crop deficit from January to May this year will be about 40% compared to same period in 2019,” Bidyananda Barkatkoty, advisor, North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), said, adding the average rainfall deficit is about 45% from January to April this year compared to the same period last year in the main tea growing districts of Assam.
“Assam, in the next ten years, may face severe shortfall of rains and existence of tea gardens may be one of the biggest sustainability challenges that the state may have to face,” Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, president, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association ( CISTA) , said, citing a study on climate change at an Indian Tea Association (ITA) organised International Tea Day programme.
Rainfall during the current season has been highly localised and there has been differences in quantum of rainfall within few kilometres distances. “Extreme weather fluctuations, temperature drop from 34 degrees to 19 degrees centigrade with hardly any sunshine for the last one week preceded by temperatures above 34 degree centigrade is playing havoc with the crop. There has not been such prolonged drought in the last thirty years and the tea industry in Assam is facing tough times again this year following the lock down for Covid last year, Bharatiya Cha Parishad’s chairman, Nalin Khemani and NETA’s chairman, Sunil Jalan said.