Darjeeling tea planters facing crop shortage amid dry spell


Tea planters in Darjeeling are facing a double whammy with a prolonged dry spell along with relatively high temperatures in the hills of West Bengal resulting in a “crop shortage” in the ongoing first flush season, coupled with “soft demand” in view of geo-political tension arising out of the Russia-Ukraine war, stakeholders said.
Due to adverse weather conditions, wilting of tea leaves and pest attacks on bushes are also noticed, planters said. Over a period of two decades, it has been seen that there is a 22 percent shortfall in annual rainfall in Darjeeling, and the pattern of precipitation has become “erratic” in nature, Darjeeling Tea Association principal adviser Sandip Mukherjee said.
The productivity of garden workers has also been adversely impacted as they have been finding it difficult to accustom themselves to heat conditions, he said. Echoing him, Rajesh Kanoria, an IIT graduate and owner of Lopchu Tea Company Ltd., said after a prolonged drought-like situation, some rain was received in March, but there has been “no rain in our garden since April 2 and the current temperature is very high”.
The rains in late March brought some respite, but this has been followed by a very hot and dry spell in April, which is again causing stress to bushes, Indian Tea Exporters’ Association chairman Anshuman Kanoria, who also owns Goomtee Tea Estate in Darjeeling, said. The current temperature in Darjeeling is 3–4 degrees Celsius higher than normal, and that has reduced atmospheric humidity, which contributes to new shoot growth, Tea Research Association secretary and principal officer Joydeep Phukan said. “Rains are crucial for the Darjeeling tea harvest. There were isolated rains on April 17, but only enough to moisten the surface soil. We anticipate a 35–40 percent drop in the first season (first and second flush) crop, which is crucial for the whole-year earnings of the Darjeeling tea industry,” Phukan stated.
First and second flushes together account for around 40 percent of the annual tea production in Darjeeling. Tea production in Darjeeling is around seven million kg annually.