Matured tea buds at a tea garden located at Sakhejung at Ilam.
ILAM, April 2: The tea industry in Ilam district is facing losses of millions of Rupees as the farmers have not been able to pick green tea from the tea gardens due to the lockdown. The lockdown came into effect as the farmers were preparing to pluck quality tea leaves. The tea leaves are outgrowing because of the delay in plucking.
Green tea comes from the first flush or first harvest and the season is from the first week of March and lasts for a month. The first flush produces the highest quality of tea. But due to the fear of transmission of COVID-19, farmers have not been able to pick up the tea leaves. All the processing industries in the district are also closed due to the lockdown.
According to tea entrepreneurs, the first flush carries out the maximum value and helps farmers to recover their investment. The sample from the first flush is sent for testing in the foreign and domestic marke. But with the delay in tea picking activity, no samples have been sent or ordered this year.
High quality organic orthodox tea grown in the hilly districts is exported to Germany, France, America, China, Russia, Japan, and Netherlands, among many other countries.
Around 5 dozens of tea processing factories in Suryadaya Municipality are closed due to the lockdown. Uday Chapagain, operator of Gorkha Tea Estate said that, his factory used to process 1,200 kilograms of tea daily at this time of the year. Of the total production, 25% used to be the first flush, which helped to cover the expenses for the whole year.
Factories pay the most for the first flush harvest but due to the lockdown, the farmers have not been able to pluck the tea leaves. “The farmers don't get the same price for tea leaves plucked at different times, they get higher price for the first flush and the price lowers as the tea leaves mature,” he said, “The farmers will be in loss throughout the whole year.”
Himalayan Shangrila Tea used to receive green tea leaves from 500 farmers. Kamal Mainali, operator of the factory said, “If the factory was open and the farmers had been able to pluck tea leaves, then 3,000 to 5,000 kilograms of green tea could be processed on a daily basis.” The factory used to produce 35,000 kilograms of tea during the first harvest of the season.