Despite expectations of increased demand from drinkers at home around the world, producers have become frustrated with the forced quarantine of their workforce, as production in India is expected to drop 9% in 2020.
Lockouts in Assam state in northeast India halted construction for more than a month. The global coronavirus epidemic intensified at the worst possible time for Indian tea producers, just as the most precious crop of the year was ready to be picked.
India has very specific production periods, experts say, called flushes. Darjeeling’s first prized flush, the “champagne of teas” harvested in the northeast of the country, was hit hard. This crop, which is generally picked between March and April, represents up to 40% of annual income.
Other tea-exporting countries, including China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, have also experienced disruptions, although Kenya – the UK’s main tea supplier – has so far avoided major problems. International Tea Committee Predicts Country May Increase Production by 15% this year.
” Because of the time, [Kenya] can produce tea all year round, “said Ibi Idoniboye, senior market analyst at Mintec.
Operations were also affected in Sri Lanka, where tea production in the first quarter of the year fell to its lowest level in decades. Exports also suffered compared to the same period last year, falling from 14.1 million kilograms to 59.5 million kilograms.
The country’s weekly tea auction, a 125-year-old tradition, was held online for the first time in April to respect social distancing measures. The auctions, usually held in Colombo, are among the largest in the world and attract around 200 people.
” This [the pandemic] This is the first time that tea production has been affected nationwide, “said Roshan Rajadurai of the Planters’ Association. Work stopped completely for a few days, he said, but the government allowed farming to resume.
Hundreds of thousands of workers continue to work picking tea. Other areas of production, such as packaging, are not operating at full capacity.
In addition to the complications posed by the Covid-19 epidemic, tea producers also faced unprecedented drought, added Rajadurai.
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, exports fell 2.5% in volume to 26,000 tonnes in the first quarter of 2020.
Although there has been no disruption to the supply of tea in the UK, it is likely that prices will continue to rise, driven by disruption of operations and speculation about shortages, a said Idoniboye. “I expected to see that tea will still appreciate in the coming weeks, but at some point it will hit a ceiling,” he added.