The current situation in the Indian territory of the Himalayas has exposed underlying problems with tea production.
The region has been hit by a series of strikes and demonstrations where the majority Gurkha population have been demanding a separate homeland.
The Gurkha party Janmukti Morcha called its followers for a strike to create their own state in India, with action starting just after the beginning of the season which stretches from April to around August and September.
The dispute focuses on the question of introducing a minimum wage as well as the decision of the regional government to impose the Bengali language throughout the territory, including the northern schools, where Gurkha is spoken.
This year’s Darjeeling crop has suffered due to industrial action
The ‘gardens’ where the crop is grown account for more than half of the 18.62 million tons of tea produced every year and about 40 per cent of overall sales.
Declining forest cover, leading to soil erosion, has also triggered landslides which threaten to wipe out entire plantations.
India’s Tea Board, the government’s regulatory body, announced in June only 140,000 kgs were produced, a fall of 90 per cent.
James Pogson, Executive Director at the UK Tea and Infusions Association, told Express.co.uk: “The ramifications of Darjeeling and what we are seeing socially around the world is that we will see tea going up and up an dup in price and that is something the British consumer is going to have to make a decision about.
An Indian tea picker working in the gardens in the Himalayas
“What price should tea be? If people knew everything there is to know about the crop, if you think about it, £2.30 for 80 drinks is about the cheapest thing you can have after water.”
Tea production is highly labour intensive as leaves must be picked by hand with estates requiring workers on a 24/7 capacity. The world’s largest tea producers, Mcleod Russel, “easily” having a million staff members on their books.
Any demand introducing a minimum wage will almost certainly see a pressure on prices to rise.
The high street supermarkets are likely to fight this, according Mr Pogson.
He said: “Sainsbury’s sell about 20 per cent of all the tea in the UK. If they say they’re not paying any more, either you will see the quality drop or eventually they will have to accept the price rise.”
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