Fresh Green Leaf, Kenya
Irish Tea Consumption rises 9.2% in 2016.
September 27th: According to figures just released by the International Tea Committee's Annual Bulletin of Statistics tea imports into the South of Ireland rose 9.2% in 2016 compared to 2015. This is great news for the Irish Tea Trade and indeed the Irish Tea Consumer, as the quality of tea imported into the South of Ireland is among the best available in the world.
Irish tea packing companies are renowned around the globe for purchasing the very best quality teas available, and only from the top quality tea producing countries, making Ireland very unique among tea drinking nations. The overall standard of quality tea available for sale in Ireland today represents some of the highest found anywhere in the world.
Ireland are also still one of the largest tea consumers in the world today per head of population drinking over 1.66 kgs tea per person per annum.
How the ongoing GJM agitation is killing Darjeeling's flourishing tea industry.
July 4th: The indefinite shutdown imposed by Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) supporters in Darjeeling has become a nightmare for the people living in the town. One of the worst aspects of the bandh, however, is a restriction on the free flow of trade and the commodity suffering the most is one that has bestowed a Kohinoor-like status upon India: the Darjeeling Tea.
Work has come to a grinding halt at an estimated 87 tea gardens in the strife-torn hills, with an initial loss calculated at a whopping Rs 340 crore.
Workers at tea gardens are not seen carrying their backpack cane carriers to pick the summer's second flush – the second round of plucking of tea leaves – for processing and are instead seen carrying posters and placards.
They are not ready to listen to the pleas of the plantation owners. And the fact that the second flush crop, harvested before the monsoon rains, accounts for one-fourth of Darjeeling's 10 million kilo production and 40 percent of its revenue seems to have no effect on them.
They do not care. Tea, at least for now, is not important.
This is bad news. Darjeeling's Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe or Oolong are among the most famous and expensive teas available across the world, especially in Europe. Interestingly, it was the British who introduced tea plantation in Darjeeling with stolen seeds from China. And the United Kingdom still remains one of the biggest markets for the 10-million kilograms of Darjeeling tea produced each year.
Darjeeling's terrain and climate, at an altitude of around 6,700ft, is perfect for growing superior quality Darjeeling leaf, which is often called 'the champagne of teas'.
"We are staking our lives for this fight, we could die fighting... what is tea in this battle?" asks Bindra Pradhan, a member of the core GJM committee.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said that the idea behind blocking Darjeeling’s finest produce was to create a "nationwide impact". He said his party will not allow the movement of tea from the gardens this time. The party had allowed tea gardens to operate during a string of bandhs and self-imposed curfews in August last year.
The turmoil is likely to continue indefinitely as West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and its feisty chief minister Mamata Banerjee tries hard to ease what appears to be an insurmountable political crisis.
The ethnic Gurkhas want a separate political and administrative unit to be carved out from the Gurkha populated districts of West Bengal. Their supporters – men, women and children – have taken over the winding roads and hill habitations in the 3,150 sq km region, stopping traffic, closing shops and restaurants, and preventing all economic activity.
"They are actually killing their best product, work should have continued in the gardens," says Sandeep Mukherjee, principal adviser to the Darjeeling Tea Association.
Mukherjee said that the current "mess" will severely impact Darjeeling's tea exports across the world. "Plucking of leaves have stopped for almost a fortnight. What is happening now is a steady undergrowth in bushes. And since the plucking is not happening, the crop will be vulnerable to pest attacks."
The state government is stuck in a peculiar situation. There are a little over 75,000 workers in the gardens who cannot be replaced with outsiders because all routes to Darjeeling are closed by GJM workers. Besides the workers, an estimated 200,000 people are dependent on the gardens. But GJM workers are not ready to relent. At some places, their supporters hold banners to stop vehicles, and in others, the roads have been blocked using riverbank stones. The entire population of 1.8 million is being asked to remain indoors.
The gardens have already lost 11 percent revenue and 40 percent of their exports due to the current unrest.
That is not all. If the strike continues, the coal supplies used in furnaces to turn the green leaves to black tea will not be available. Worse, the supply of rice to tea gardens has also stopped – tea pickers are partly paid in rice.
Darjeeling's loss could become Colombo's gain as many Sri Lankan companies routinely pick tea from Darjeeling to blend it with their local produce and market it as Darjeeling tea. The Lankan exporters, fear Indian tea experts, will increase their sales.
The crisis will severely impact exports to the rich and famous across the world - like the Japanese, Swedish and other royal families - and also to top departmental stores like Harrods in London. At a glittering dinner at the Royal Palace this March, the Swedish Royal family had included Darjeeling tea in the menu. The high-quality tea is also on the menu of the Japanese Royal family, which buys the product in bulk from planters in Darjeeling.
"You would be mistaken if you think the departmental stores will keep their shelves empty. They will pick up expensive tea from Sri Lanka and even Kenya to fill the shelves," says Shiraj Sen, a tea planter.
Sen says that on paper, the loss may not look that huge because Darjeeling accounts for only one percent of India's total tea produce of 1,233 million kilos, of which 230 million was exported.
"Darjeeling tea is classy because 70 percent of the product is organic, its leaves are known for its fragrance. Tea drinkers all over the world love Darjeeling tea but now the stocks will be threatened," he added.
Senior officials of the Kolkata-based Tea Board have called for an emergency meeting next week as tea companies look to deal with the crisis. "This has been going on for more than a month... the first time when GJM had raised the issue of Gorkhaland, they had exempted the tea gardens from the ambit of their strike. Now, they have included it, knowing very well what it means for them, and us, and the image of the country," says SS Bagaria, chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association.
He said stocks across the world will last for a month and a half and that "no one knows what’s going to happen thereafter".
The Guardian quoted Nick Gandon, director of the United Kingdom-based Reginald Ames tea merchants and brokers, who said that "the action in Darjeeling would inevitably disrupt the market and lead to a rise in the price of the tea."
Bagaria says that the current shutdown will, arguably, be the biggest blow to the tea brand ever since it hit the markets five decades ago. No one can doubt him.
Kenya Drought Continues.
May 2017. Kenya’s annual inflation accelerated for a fourth consecutive month to its highest level in five years as price pressures from an ongoing drought persist.
Consumer prices surged 11.5 percent in April from 10.3 percent in March, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement emailed from the capital, Nairobi. The inflation rate breached the Central Bank of Kenya’s 7.5 percent ceiling in February.
The food and non-alcoholic drinks index, which accounts for a third of the inflation basket, increased 21 percent in April from a year ago, the KNBS said.
Kenya, the world’s largest exporter of black tea, is in the throes of a severe drought that’s curtailed food production and could shave 0.6 percent off national economic output, according to the World Bank. East Africa’s largest economy’s rain-fed farming sector contributes a third of gross domestic product. The meteorological department has warned that seasonal rains between March and May will be less than normal.
New Kenya Tea Factory
May 2017. The Kenya government is in the process of constructing a Sh770M tea factory under the Tea Research Institute (TRI). Apparently, the TRI had been amalgamated into Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and they are going to spend Sh370M for the construction of the factory and Sh400M on machinery. The TRI is involved primarly with tea research, creation of new varieties of tea and playing an advisory role to tea farmers on the best farming practices for the cash crop.
The TRI's factory will not only process ordinary tea but will also produce orthodox tea with the aim of allowing more tea lovers to enjoy the health benefits which come with such teas. "The construction of the tea factory is at advanced stage. It is projected to produce its first butch of tea before the year ends.