Assam floods, pests hit Indian tea production

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : India’s tea production has been hit with heavy floods in the northeastern state of Assam inundating plantations and rampant pests eating away the crop in some areas, officials said.

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“Floods have had an impact in some areas where plucking was suspended for sometime with plantations under water, besides erosion hitting a number of gardens,” Dhiraj Kakati, secretary of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association, told IANS.

According to estimates, there is a production loss of about 4 million kg of tea until August compared to the corresponding period last year, the official said.

India is currently the world’s largest tea producer after China with a record crop of 955 million kg last year, Assam accounting for about 55 percent of the total produce.

At least 70 plantations of Assam’s 800-odd gardens have come under floodwaters.

Three waves of flooding since July left over 100 people dead and nearly 12 million people displaced in 25 of Assam’s 27 districts. The worst hit districts Are Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dhubri, Morigaon, Barpeta, Lakhimpur, and Nalbari.

Close to 10,000 villages in an area of 825,000 hectares were affected by the raging floods that cut a swath across the state.

“Some of the factories were hit by the floods forcing the managements in those plantations to shut down operations,” said K. Sharma, a senior planter.

Adding to the woes of the cash-strapped tea industry are rampant pests that are eating away tea crops. A tea mosquito called helopeltis has attacked some 100 plantations in various parts of Assam.

“We saw a sudden outbreak of blisters in some plantations and have been battling the helopeltis outbreak ever since,” Sharma said.

“This time too, like in the past, there have been seasonal pest attacks in certain areas although the problem is not widespread,” Kakati said.

According to tea growers, the bugs tend to attack plantations when the young leaves brown.

The Indian tea industry had projected an estimated production of about 1,000 million kg this year.

“There is still time to make up the loss in production and it would all depend on the rainfall we get in the next few months,” Kakati said.

India’s $1.5 billion tea industry was facing the worst crisis in the past century with prices dropping in the weekly auctions, besides facing a slump in export figures,

“Prices at the auctions are lower by about Rs.1.50 per kg compared to corresponding figures last year. Exports are also down by about 10 million kg in the same period (January to August),” the tea official said.

India exported 200 million kg last year.

The slump in prices and exports was largely attributed a glut in the world tea market.