WorldIndiaConfirmed2,301Deaths56Confirmed1,013,157Deaths52,983The South Indian tea industry is expecting an output decline in the first six months of 2020 due to the Covid-19 impact. Most of the tea estates concentrated in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are not operating since the lockdown from March 24. Some of the estates in Nilgiri and Coimbatore districts are carrying on partial operations by special order from the district administration. “The April-May period is usually the peak cropping season which could be impacted by Covid-19,” said R Sanjit, head of commodities of United Planters’ Association of Southern India (Upasi).
The average annual tea production in South India has dropped to 220-225 million kg from 240 million kg in the last few years, he said. The plantations had suffered loss from drought and floods in the last couple of years. The industry reckons that once the estates open by mid April, it would take several weeks to restore normalcy. The overgrown tea will have to be cut and removed before starting fresh plucking. “The whole cycle of operation including procurement of raw material, chemicals, fertilisers and fuel for the factories has also to be streamlined. This will take time,” said Anil George, vice president, tea, Harrisons Malayalam (HML).
HML along with Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company (KDHP) and AVT are among the major tea plantation companies in South India. “Though some estates are continuing functioning in a small way, it is quite difficult to implement conditions like sanitising and social distancing of the workers,” said V Unnikrishnan, vicepresident of plantations of AVT.
With the stoppage of tea auctions in South India, restriction on vehicle movement and non-availability of workers, the private companies have been unable to transport tea from the warehouses to meet the demand. State organisations like Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) are finding it hard to market their tea with the tea auctions coming to a halt. Since we cannot pack our Sabari brand we are sourcing packet tea from the different private companies even from outside the state to supply to the consumers at cheap rates, said Jayson Jacob, Supplyco manager. Supply co will begin free distribution of essentials including tea from next week.